Finding The Best Kayak | 1. Types of Kayaks

Getting Started

Some kayaks are more appropriate in the ocean, whereas other kayaks are more suitable for fishing. It is not unusual for a paddler to have a broad range of kayaks as they will all be used for different purposes. You need to make sure that your kayak is correlated with your paddling abilities and strength, so you get the best experience possible.

To help you make a decision, below are some categories of kayaks that you can consider depending on their function and use. This article will guide you through various kayak types and will help you decide which one is best for you.

If you already know what type of kayak you want and you want to skip right to your specific guide, choose below.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable Kayaks are easy to transport and can often be carried in bags or by hand. They have a heavy duty exterior and often have a kit inside so you can make easy repairs on the go. They are inflated by hand, foot or if you have one, an electric pump.

As for the material, an inflatable kayak is usually made from double ripstop PVC or nylon and are usually pumped up lightly with a PSI below 3. Recently, however, kayak companies have been making more rigid inflatable kayaks and combining the design of a sit-on-top kayak hull by having several outer inflatable sections, which in turn reduce weight and can make for a strong, seaworthy kayak.

In general, inflatable kayaks are lightweight and can be transported with ease due to their compact design. Furthermore, they are suitable for beginners and are easy to master. Because of the low pressure, these kayaks are perfect for rivers and calm bays, but as mentioned before, with the newer builds they may be suitable for sea conditions as well.


Best For

Short Trips, Lakes, Some Like Sea Eagle Models good for whitewater

Fishing Kayaks

If you are a huge fishing fan, you are going to want to be able to go out into the deep ocean and fish in deep waters, and this is where fishing kayaks come in. These kayaks will be able to get you close to shores and to reefs where the fish will be more plentiful. These kayaks are very similar to sit-on-top kayaks but have an increased sense of stability as the Fisher needs to be stable when fishing. The stability is enhanced through a wider hull, and they often have a comfortable under fitting making for safe and efficient fishing no matter what conditions you are in.

You should have no issues getting to your fishing spot either, as a fishing kayak will allow you to easily paddle out because of the sleek and efficient way it's designed, and through molded support, your kayak shouldn’t tip with large swells or big catches. Fishing kayaks are also very customizable and can be modified to suit the fisher’s needs. Some fishers will incorporate rod holders, GPS and even electronic fish finders which will be able to track the particular fish they are chasing. Creativity is the key with fishing kayaks, and with various equipment, you can make the perfect kayak.


Best Types

Sit On Top - Best For Ocean Fishing, Great for all other

Sit In - For Lakes, harder to fish on shakey water, low manueverability

Sea Kayaks

Sea kayaks are ideal for those long distance trips and adventurous journeys into the open sea and are intended to be used by a variety of users who have various styles. Sea kayaks come in different sizes, and they require a particular level of skill to master. They are intentionally designed for straight tracking and have an efficient hull form that makes them ideal for long distance travel and open crossings.

Sea kayaks are not as maneuverable as other kayaks, but in return, they have a longer waterline and have reduced rockers (the bottom of a kayak), which is what makes them perfect for long distance. Despite the lack of maneuverability, there is a slight compensation from the edging characteristics which the more experienced users will like. Some sea kayaks will also be designed to scatter the waves by including an upturned bow, and rudders or skegs can enhance line tracking. Modern sea kayaks have also been known to include two or more bulkheads so that you can store essential travel gear in the below-deck storage and not risk the chance of your gear being drenched in the water. This storage is also great for emergency situations.

The sea kayak design is geared towards long distance traveling and is often associated with more experienced users. The design can be made from a range of materials and has additional features that make is fit for any condition and terrain. When choosing an appropriate sea kayak, consider the length, width and cargo capacity before you purchase.

two people in a sea eagle kayak

Best For

Open Ocean and Bays With a Spray Skirt
Racing, due to high speeds. Good for rivers
Decent for fishing, camping, lakes

Kayaks for Racing

These type of kayaks are going to be light weight and will be narrower than your standard kayak. They are also better equipped for the more experienced users in the kayaking community as they require a particular expertise to paddle. However, with the proper training, they can be paddled incredibly fast. As implied by the name, these kayaks are designed for competitive kayaking and racing, but can also be used for recreational purposes depending on how the user wants to use it.

A racing kayak is usually longer and narrower and has a smaller surface area which allows for less drag when you are paddling at high speeds. Due to the design incorporating a good length, racing kayaks are ideal for straight-line tracking and can often include rudders to help them turn, which is usually controlled using the user’s feet. The cockpit is typically enclosed, and they sometimes have similar features to that of a sea kayak, but with different characteristics allowing for great speeds to be obtained in the water. Because of the narrow design, higher skill will be needed with balance and paddling if you intend on using a racing kayak in open water.

As suggested in the name, racing kayaks are specialized for racing events. They are great in the hands of an experienced user as they can achieve very higher speeds in the water thanks to their narrow, slick design. However, more skill is needed to use these kayaks because of the issues regarding balancing and paddling.

racing kayak

Best Types

Sit On Top - Best For Ocean Fishing, Great for all other

Sit In - For Lakes, harder to fish on shakey water, low manueverability

Whitewater Rafting Kayaks

These kayaks are designed to be used on a moving body of water such as a wave or in a rushing river, and their use can vary from a chilled cruise down the river to a more adventurous high-speed trip. Rivers are classified in difficulty, and some rivers will be more challenging than others. However, if you intend on tackling these type of rivers, you will need a specific kayak known as a whitewater kayak.

These are made from a high impact plastic and are usually shorter than standard kayaks. This reduction in size makes the kayaks more maneuverable but worse if you plan on executing long distance travel. Despite this reduction in speed, it is made up for due to the moving water of the rivers they are used in. The plastic used is also more flexible and durable, and the kayaks can range in size depending on the style of whitewater rafting you intend on performing. There are three variations of whitewater rafting, and they will be discussed below:

• Creeking

This style of whitewater rafting is categorized by the technical and challenging rapids that are associated with high difficulty rivers. Usually, the gradient in creeking is steeper, and there will be slides and waterfalls present on these trips. Furthermore, the rivers tend to be tighter and more experienced users will be more equip to deal with the technicalities. The type of kayaks used in these conditions will be higher in volume and slightly more rounded to add extra safety if you get pinned as well offering extra buoyancy which aids resurfacing.

• Playboating

This is more of a gymnastic style of kayaking, and it usually involves staying in one space and not moving from one point to another. You can usually notice playboaters as they will be the ones doing flips and tricks in the water and will also be performing some aerial moves which have become popular in recent years. The kayaks that will be useful in this situation will be low volume and should allow for the user to submerge at both ends of the kayak with ease.

• Running

This is a more moderate version of whitewater kayaking and is considered to be more peaceful and scenic, but you may need to tackle the occasional rapid currents every now-and-again. This also can include day trips and longer journeys and requires a kayak with a larger storage compartment and a more comfortable seat.

• Surf

this involves similar kayaks to whitewater, but they have flat sides (planing hull) and have sharper rails which can carve into the wave and provide better movement. This planing hull makes it easier for the users to catch the waves quicker and to achieve greater speeds. If you combine all these together, you get something similar to a surfboard, as well as a lightweight model typically designed from fiberglass.

Whitewater Rafting Kayaks

Best Types

Specialty Hard Shell - The more common choice these are made special for rapid and have a grooved bottom to avoid getting stuck on rocks, materials are usually much more durable aswell

Inflatable - Some newer models of inflatable kayaks such as the later Sea Eagle models have the ability to take on high class rapids without and issues.

Sit-on-Top Kayaks

These kayaks are very similar to the other kayaks mentioned in this articles, but the main difference is the point that instead of sitting inside the kayak, you sit on the outside on a molded-in depression that resides on top. These kayaks are typically used for fishing, surfing and touring and can be very versatile because it is easier to enter and exit the water in a sit-on-top kayak and it is also simpler to access storage on the move. Because the seat is above water level, the center of gravity is higher for the paddler, and this is compensated with a wider design which, in turn, makes them slower. Sit-on-top kayaks are perfect for beginners because of the multi-function ability they have, and also because of the fact you do not need to practice wet exits or rolls because you will not be trapped in the kayak in an emergency. Also, if you have a large body and long legs, you may find a sit-on-top kayak more comfortable because you will have more room to move. Also, the kayak is effectively unsinkable because the hull is closed, making them ideal for sea and recreational kayaking. If you feel like traveling out with a partner, these kayaks also come in both single and double designs making them perfect for partnered journeys.

Sit-on-Top Kayaks

Best For

Fishing, Open Ocean, Lakes, Bays, Rivers, Ponds, Diving, Family Trips

- Best Stabi lity

Touring Kayaks

These designs are for the more casual user and you may not expect to see one of these in a professional’s collection. These kayaks allow for a more relaxed experienced and are often used in calm rivers and still lakes, and can even be used on longer trips. The main difference with a recreational kayak is the fact they are significantly shorter than other styles and often incorporate a larger cockpit that make entering and exiting a little easier. They are designed with stability in mind as they often include strong sterns and positive tracking, making them great for beginners as previously mentioned. However, these kayaks are also great for fishing and exploration. They are comfy because of the included backrest and regularly have a foot rudder for better control. If you plan on longer trips, you can find ones that include storage compartments that are watertight preventing them from being soaked in the event of a capsize.

Touring Kayaks

Best For
Cottage Kayaker

Sailing Kayaks

There are many reasons to decide to rig your kayak using a sail. Sails may be used to improve speed and your range on day trips or expeditions. They are able to put in a degree of security on journeys that are challenging or take the sting away from long rides.

As sea kayaking started in the 80's and 90's boat layouts moved toward high performance contours which weren't usable with the sail designs of the day. Sails did not keep pace with innovations in technique and kayak design, and sailing became a speciality section of the sport rather than a principal focus. Sea kayak sailing faded in emphasis and visibility was put on powering the kayaks using the paddle. All this has changed together with the introduction of new sail layouts. Newage sails are easy, powerful sail rigs which can be perfectly matched to the kayak layouts of today. They are able to be accommodated and fit almost any touring kayak and planks, no complicated outriggers or rudders. Kayak sailing is for anyone trying to take their kayaking that extra step by adding a new dimension to the sport.

Sailing Kayaks

Best For

- Kayakers looking to try something new
- Best used on the ocean where wind is stronger, can be used on lakes

Final Words

Kayaking is a fun and exhilarating sport and something that everyone should try out. However, depending on your style and preferred use, it can help to understand what kayak will best suit you and your needs. This article explains some kayak options available to you and each one has a particular purpose. Keeping that in mind, however, particular styles like sea kayaks and recreational can be used in various conditions, but it is best to keep to their recommended uses. Another final factor to consider is price, as this is usually the first thing that comes to mind before the purchase, but as this article suggests, the kayak style is just as important and will determine whether you get the best results for your money.

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About Julian Thompson

cb787c59d2808e1f609076e790ca977e?s=90&d=mm&r=gCertifications: Certified Kayaking Instructor (AKA)
Education: American Kayak Association
Lives In: Denver Colorado

I am a kayaking expert/instructor who has been fishing for over 15 years. Fishing is my passion, but kayaking keeps me on the water. I love to share my knowledge of techniques and tips with others. I live in Colorado with my wife and two kids and own a small kayak rental business On Grand Lake where I rent and instruct.