When choosing a kayak, there are many different factors to consider. Kayaks come in all sorts of materials, sizes, and types– each with its own pros and cons. From fishing to open ocean touring, kayaking has been around for thousands of years, both as a sport and for practicality.
Kayaks were first used by the Inuit people of the Arctic region, who relied on them for transportation and hunting. The word “kayak” comes from the Inuit language and means “man’s boat.” Kayaks were designed to be lightweight and easy to maneuver to help hunters get close to their prey.
Today, kayaks are still used for hunting and transportation in some parts of the world, but they have also become a popular recreational activity. There are many different types of kayaks on the market today, and it can be overwhelming to try and choose one. To do so, you’ll want to learn more about the materials, different measurements, and what kind of kayaking you want. With this knowledge in hand, you’ll be able to find the perfect kayak for your needs.
So, Let’s get started and go over some of the different kayak materials, sizes, and types so that you can make an informed decision on which kayak is right for you.
What to Consider When Shopping for a Kayak
When shopping for a kayak, there are several factors you’ll need to take into account to find the perfect one for your needs. Different kayaks are designed for different purposes, and it’s important to choose one that is best suited for the type of kayaking you want to do.
Here are some of the things you’ll need to consider when shopping for a kayak:
- Where you’ll be kayaking: Different kayaks are designed for different environments. Some are better suited for calm waters in lakes or small streams, while others can handle rougher conditions of rapid rivers or open oceans.
- What you’ll be using it for: Kayaks can be used for recreation, fishing, or even transportation. There are different kayaks designed specifically for each of these purposes, including some for multi-day excursions, so choosing one that will fit your needs is important.
- Kayak Size: Kayaks come in various sizes, from solo kayaks designed for one person to tandem kayaks that can fit two or more people. The size of kayak you need will depend on how many people you want to be able to accommodate and what type of kayaking you’ll be doing.
- Kayak Weight/Weight Capacity: The weight of the kayak itself is an important consideration, especially if you’ll be transporting it to and from the water on your own. The weight capacity is also important, as it will determine how much gear you can bring with you on your kayaking adventure.
- Kayak Materials: Kayaks are typically made out of fiberglass, rotomolded plastic, or inflatable fabric. Each material has its own pros and cons regarding weight, durability, and price.
Here’s how different types of kayaks stack up against each other in terms of weight/size and material:
|Kayak Type||Material||Average Weight|
|Recreational Sit-On Kayaks||Polyethylene||92.8 lbs|
|Recreational Sit-In Kayaks||Fiberglass||48.75 lbs|
|Crossover Kayaks||Polyethylene||56 lbs|
|Touring Kayaks||Polyethylene, ABS-acrylic, fiberglass, or Aramid (Kevlar)||63.6 lbs|
|Sea Kayaks||High-Density Polyethylene||54.3 lbs|
|Whitewater Kayaks||Rotomolded plastic or High-Density Polyethylene||42.2 lbs|
|Folding Kayaks||Polyethylene||20-40 lbs|
|Fishing Kayaks||Rotomolded polyethylene||104.7 lbs|
|Tandem Kayaks||Rotomolded or thermoformed plastic, fiberglass, or carbon fiber blend||60-75 lbs|
|Diving Kayaks||High-Density Polyethylene||35-70 lbs|
|Surf Kayaks||Glass composites (mixtures of carbon fiber, Kevlar, and fiberglass) or rotomolded plastic||35-70 lbs|
|SUP Kayak Hybrid||Carbon fiber||38.7 lbs|
You’ll also be looking closely at the following:
- Kayak Length: Longer kayaks cruise more efficiently and often have storage space for gear used overnight when touring.
- Width and Hull Depth: Deeper hulls provide more legroom for taller kayakers and sometimes have additional storage space. Shallower hulls aren’t as easily affected by the wind. Wider hulls offer stability at first, while narrower hulls can go faster once you get used to them.
- Your budget: Kayaks can range in price from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand. It’s important to set a budget and stick to it so that you don’t spend more than you can afford.
When looking at dimensions and price, here’s how the same types of kayaks look when compared side by side:
|Kayak Type||Average Length||Average Width||Average Price|
|Recreational Sit-On Kayaks||11.54 feet||29.98 inches||$300 to $1000|
|Recreational Sit-In Kayaks||12.5 feet||26.78 inches||$300 to $1000|
|Crossover Kayaks||10 feet||27.25 inches||$1000 to $1400|
|Inflatable Kayaks||11.7 feet||37.1 inches||less than $100|
|Touring Kayaks||12.6 feet||29.6 inches||$1000 to $1200|
|Sea Kayaks||16.6 feet||22.8 inches||$1500 to $5000|
|Whitewater Kayaks||8.4 feet||25.5 inches||$700 to $850|
|Folding Kayaks||12 feet||30 inches||$1800 to $2500|
|Fishing Kayaks||12.4 feet||36.2 inches||$500 to $750|
|Tandem Kayaks||12 to 20 feet||18 to 28 inches||$500 to $2000|
|Diving Kayaks||10 feet||18 to 24 inches||$1500 to $5000|
|Surf Kayaks||12 to 20 feet||18 to 24 inches||$200 to $1,000|
|SUP Kayak Hybrid||10 feet||32 inches||$900 to $1200|
Let’s explore each type of kayak, their best uses, some pros and cons, and why they may be the best choice for you.
13 Different Types of Kayaks, Their Uses, and Specs
When it comes to kayaks, there are a few categories and areas where categories can overlap, such as recreational, fishing, touring, and tandem kayaks. Specific types of kayaks, like sea or surf kayaks, are designed with certain features to make them better at handling their environment.
1. Recreational Sit-On Kayaks
These are the most popular type of kayak and are designed for casual use in a variety of different settings, such as lakes, rivers, and calm coastal waters. They’re generally shorter and heavier than other types of kayaks, making them more difficult to transport, but they offer more stability and are easier to get on and off of.
Recreational kayaks are the most popular type of kayak and are designed for casual use in a variety of different settings. They’re generally shorter and heavier than other kayaks, making them more difficult to transport, but they offer more stability and are easier to get on and off.
Pros of Recreational Sit-On Kayaks
- Stability – these kayaks are great for beginners or those who want to avoid feeling too much motion while paddling.
- Ease of Use – recreational kayaks are easy to get on and off, even if you’re not very flexible.
- Inexpensive – Recreational sit-on kayaks can be one of the most affordable kayaks; however, high-end models can still cost nearly $1,000.
Cons of Recreational Sit-On Kayaks
- Heavier and harder to transport than other types of kayaks – these kayaks can be a bit cumbersome to move around.
- Not as efficient or fast as other kayaks – recreational kayaks aren’t meant for speed or long distances.
- More chance of getting wet – Because of the sealed hull, there isn’t a spray skirt or protection for your legs, so chances are, you’ll be getting wet in one of these models.
2. Recreational Sit-In Kayaks
Sit-in kayaks have a similar length and width to sit-on kayaks but are much lighter on average. They have an enclosed hull, protecting you from the elements but making them more difficult to get in and out of. In the event of tipping over, you may have to exit the kayak from underneath, which can be tricky.
Recreational sit-in kayaks are designed to be stable and easy to steer. They usually feature a wide hull, are generally less than 12 feet long, have a small area to stash essentials, and include a large cockpit for easy access. They work best on lakes, flatwater streams, or any other bodies of water that are not too choppy.
Pros of Recreational Sit-In Kayaks
- Protection from the elements – with a closed cockpit, you’ll stay drier in rough conditions than in a sit-on kayak.
- Less chance of tipping – because your weight is lower in the water, sit-in kayaks are less likely to tip over than sit-on kayaks.
Cons of Recreational Sit-In Kayaks
- Difficult to get in and out of – these kayaks, especially if you’re not very flexible, can be tricky to get in and out of.
- It can be wet in rough conditions – while the cockpit does offer some protection, you can still get splashed or even take on water if conditions are bad enough.
3. Crossover Kayaks
Crossover kayaks are designed as a crossover between similar models with differing features. They’re typically designed with recreational hulls and the added features of whitewater, fishing, or other, more specific kayak types. As the name suggests, crossover kayaks are designed to be versatile and work well in a variety of different settings. They’re usually a bit narrower than recreational kayaks, making them faster and more efficient to paddle.
Crossover kayaks are similar in length and weight to most recreational kayaks but may have additional features such as a fishing rod holder, storage for gear, or a skeg (a small fin that helps with tracking). They work well in calm to moderate waters and can even handle some mild whitewater.
Pros of Crossover Kayaks
- Versatile – these kayaks can be used for recreation, fishing, or even some mild whitewater paddling.
- Faster and more efficient than recreational kayaks – due to their narrower hull, crossover kayaks are easier to paddle and won’t tire you out as quickly.
Cons of Crossover Kayaks
- Not as stable as other types of kayaks – A crossover kayak is not as high-performing or has as many features as a specialized kayak. If you want to focus your kayaking on one activity, getting a hull made specifically for that sport is better.
4. Inflatable Kayaks
Inflatable kayaks are the most affordable type of kayak; however, they’re much less durable. These models aren’t intended for large bodies of open water or rapid, choppy waters. They are made with a durable PVC material and have air chambers that can be inflated using a manual or electric pump. Inflatable kayaks are usually lighter than hard-shell kayaks and can be deflated for easy storage and transport.
Most inflatable kayaks are under 10 feet long and much wider than any other type of kayak. They usually have a single or double sit-on-top design and feature multiple air chambers for safety. These kayaks work best on flatwater lakes and streams.
Pros of Inflatable Kayaks
- Lightweight and portable – these kayaks are easy to transport and can be deflated for storage.
- Affordable – inflatable kayaks are the most budget-friendly type of kayak.
Cons of Inflatable Kayaks
- Less durable – these kayaks aren’t as rugged as hard-shell kayaks and can be punctured easily.
- Limited usage – inflatable kayaks aren’t meant for large bodies of open water or choppy conditions. Additionally, cold weather can make them brittle and more susceptible to punctures.
5. Touring Kayaks
Touring kayaks are designed for long-distance paddling on flat or mildly moving water. They’re usually between 12 and 24 feet long and have a sleek, hydrodynamic design that makes them easy to paddle for long periods of time. Touring kayaks also have large storage compartments, so you can bring along enough gear for an extended trip.
Most touring kayaks have a sit-inside design, which protects you from the elements but can make getting in and out more difficult. These kayaks also have a variety of different hatches that provide access to the storage compartments.
Pros of Touring Kayaks
- Long-distance paddling – these kayaks are designed to be paddled for long periods of time.
- Large storage capacity – you can bring along enough gear for an extended trip.
- Protection from the elements – a sit-inside design keeps you dry and sheltered from the wind.
Cons of Touring Kayaks
- Difficult to get in and out – a sit-inside design can make it hard to get in and out of the kayak.
- Less maneuverable – touring kayaks aren’t as easy to turn due to their length.
6. Sea Kayaks
Sea kayaks are one of the largest types of kayaks and are designed for ocean paddling. They’re usually between 16 and 20 feet long and have various features that make them stable and safe in rough waters. Sea kayaks also have large storage compartments, so you can bring along enough gear for an extended trip.
Designed for long-distance paddling, most sea kayaks have a rudder, which is a movable blade that’s attached to the back of the kayak. These models also have a steeper rocker (the curve from bow to stern) that helps it better crest into oncoming waves. It also has a narrower, V-shaped front profile. This design makes them able to deal with rougher waters, but they are less stable as a result.
Pros of Sea Kayaks
- Stable and safe – these kayaks are designed for rough waters and have various features that make them stable and safe.
- Tracks straighter – a rudder helps the kayak track straighter in windy or waves conditions.
- Large storage capacity – you can bring along enough gear for an extended trip.
- Maneuverable – a rudder makes it easy to turn these kayaks in any direction.
Cons of Sea Kayaks
- Not ideal for flat water – When taken out of its usual environment, a sea kayak can be difficult to paddle on flat water. The high rocker and unique profile can make it hard to maneuver in calm conditions.
7. Whitewater Kayaks
Whitewater kayaks are designed for paddling on rivers with rapids. They’re usually between 8 and 12 feet long and have a variety of features that make them maneuverable and stable in moving water. Lighter and much shorter than other kayaks, whitewater kayaks are easy to maneuver in rapids and tight spaces.
The two types of whitewater kayaks, playboats, and creekboats, differ slightly. The shortest whitewater kayaks are playboats. They have a scooped bow and blunt stern, which makes them highly maneuverable and tough. By utilizing the speed gained from traveling through rapids, these boats are used to perform technical tricks. Creekboats are longer than playboats with more volume. These kayaks let riders navigate narrow waterways with ease.
Pros of Whitewater Kayaks
- Maneuverable – these kayaks are designed for paddling in moving water and are easy to maneuver in rapids and tight spaces.
- Agile – Whitewater kayaks are agile and can turn quickly.
- Resistant to impact – these kayaks are designed to withstand impact from rocks and other obstacles.
Cons of Whitewater Kayaks
- Not ideal for flat water – these kayaks are designed for moving water and can be difficult to paddle on flat water. Their scooped design makes them much slower than other models in flat water.
8. Folding Kayaks
Folding kayaks are a type of kayak that can be collapsed down for easy storage and transportation. They’re usually made from various materials, including aluminum frames with skin covers. Folding kayaks are typically between 10 and 16 feet long and are the lightest type of kayak.
The main advantage of a folding kayak is that it can be easily transported and stored. These kayaks can be taken on public transportation, planes, and even backpack camping trips. Folding kayaks are also great for paddlers who have limited storage space.
Pros of Folding Kayaks
- Easy to transport and store – these kayaks can be easily transported and stored.
- Lightweight – these kayaks are the lightest kind of kayak, making them easy to carry.
Cons of Folding Kayaks
- Prone to cracking – the materials used to make these kayaks are prone to cracking.
- More expensive – because of their materials and construction, folding kayaks are usually more expensive than other types of kayaks.
9. Fishing Kayaks
Fishing kayaks are a type of kayak that is designed for anglers and fishermen. They usually have features that make them stable and comfortable to fish from, such as adjustable seats and built-in fishing rod holders. Fishing kayaks are usually between 10 and 14 feet long but can be significantly heavier than other recreational kayaks due to their additional features.
Pros of Fishing Kayaks
- Stable – these kayaks are designed to be stable while fishing, so you can easily stand up or move around without tipping over.
- Comfortable – fishing kayaks usually have adjustable seats and built-in fishing rod holders for added comfort.
Cons of Fishing Kayaks
- Slower & require more energy – due to their additional features, fishing kayaks are usually slower and require more energy to paddle.
- Heavy – because of their additional features, fishing kayaks can be significantly heavier than other kayaks.
10. Tandem Kayaks
Tandem kayaks are designed for two people and are usually longer than other kayaks. They come in sit-on-top and sit-in designs; however, sit-on-top models are much more popular. Tandem kayaks are a great way to enjoy time on the water with a friend or family member.
Pros of Tandem Kayaks
- Great for socializing – tandem kayaks are a great way to enjoy time on the water with a friend or family member.
- More storage space – tandem kayaks usually have more storage space than other types of kayaks, making them great for longer trips.
- Ideal for beginners – tandem kayaks can be a great way for beginners to learn how to paddle and navigate a kayak.
Cons of Tandem Kayaks
- Heavier – Whether you’re in the water or putting your tandem kayak up for storage, keep in mind that these kayaks are usually heavier than other types of kayaks.
- Require more energy – tandem kayaks require more energy to paddle due to their size
11. Diving Kayaks
Though these aren’t a specific manufactured type, diving kayaks combine the best features of both sea and fishing kayaks. As the name implies, diving kayaks are designed for scuba diving and snorkeling.
They have large cockpits that make it easy to get in and out of the water and plenty of storage space for all your gear. Diving kayaks are also usually made from materials that are resistant to saltwater and UV light.
Pros of Diving Kayaks
- Versatile – Because they’re combinations, these models can be used for camping, recreation, fishing, and diving.
- Comfortable – As a hybrid type of kayak, diving kayas can have the conveniences of recreational models and the performance of touring kayaks.
Cons of Diving Kayaks
- Heavier – Like fishing kayaks, diving kayaks are usually heavier due to their features and materials.
12. Surf Kayaks
Surf skis are long and narrow, able to cut through big waves. Surf kayaks are used to catch wave swells as one might on a surfboard. One variation, the wave ski, has a wide and flat hull that is usually shorter than 10 feet. Surf kayaks come in both sit-in and sit-on models. Surf kayak racing is a popular sport, with both professional and amateur leagues.
Pros of Surf Kayaks
- Maneuverable – these kayaks are designed to be lightweight and easy to maneuver in the water.
Cons of Surf Kayaks
- Lack of versatility – Because these models are specifically designed for surfing, they lack the versatility of other kayaks.
13. SUP Kayak Hybrid
A SUP kayak hybrid is exactly what it sounds like – a cross between a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and a kayak. These models have the long, narrow hull of a kayak with the addition of a SUP-style paddle. Some hybrids also come with a seat, while others are designed to be paddled standing up.
Pros of SUP Kayak Hybrids
- Maneuverable – These kayaks are designed to be lightweight and easy to maneuver in the water.
Cons of SUP Kayak Hybrids
- Usability – Often outperformed by SUP and conventional kayaks, SUP kayak hybrids can be difficult to use and lack the versatility of other types of kayaks.
Choosing the Kayak Right for You
Kayaking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, whether exploring a remote lake or paddling down a river. But with so many different types of kayaks on the market, it can be tough to choose the right one for your needs. Here are a few questions to keep in mind when making your decision:
- What will you be using your kayak for? – This is perhaps the most important question to ask yourself. Are you looking for a kayak to take on fishing trips or one to use for diving?
- What are you using it for? – Do you need a versatile model that can be used for multiple purposes or one that is specifically designed for surfing?
- How much experience do you have? – If you’re a beginner, it might be a good idea to start with a tandem or sit-on-top kayak. These models are usually easier to paddle and maneuver.
- How much money are you willing to spend? – Kayaks can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, so it’s important to set a budget before you start shopping.
Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to decide which one is right for you. Whether you’re looking for a solo or tandem kayak, a fishing or diving kayak, or a surf or SUP kayak hybrid, there’s sure to be a model that fits your needs.