Most people are familiar with kayaking, but many people are unaware of the different types of kayaks and the various activities that are possible with each type. A kayak can be your vehicle to exciting wildlife encounters, hidden campgrounds, a fun way to exercise your upper body or witness gorgeous views not visible from anywhere on land.
Before setting out to choose a kayak, it is important to consider what kind of paddling you plan to do, what kind of water you plan to paddle in, how you plan to transport your kayak, and how much money you are prepared to spend.
The Differt Types of Kayaks
The most popular type of kayak is a recreational kayak. Recreational kayaks are generally budget friendly and easy to use for beginners and experienced kayakers alike. Recreational kayaks are best for low-intensity paddling causing them to be a popular choice among fishermen, huntsmen, and nature photographers.
Although recreational kayaks can be heavy to transport, they are typically made of polyethylene plastic which gives them great stability in ponds, small lakes, and calmer rivers.
An important thing to remember about recreational kayaks is that if they get flipped, it can be challenging to get upright again. Recreational kayaks should not be used in open water with heavy currents, such as oceans, whitewater rivers, and large lakes. Recreational kayaks are well-suited for short day trips.
Sit-on-top kayaks are very popular among kayak anglers, kids, swimmers, or people brand new to the world of kayaking. The kayak seat area is above water level, causing these kayaks to wider and more stable than traditional kayaks.
Due to the wide hull, sit-on-tops are slower than other types of kayaks. However, because of the wide hull, these kayaks make a great place to fish and a stable jump-off point for diving and swimming. Sit-on-top kayaks have draining holes making them easy to bail out should the kayak flip while in the water.
Sit-on-top kayaks are available in single or double passenger sizes, with some coming equipped with storage areas for touring trips. The kayaks are typically 10 to 15 feet, made of plastic, and relatively easy to transport. Sit-on-top kayaks are best suited for warm climates and calm waters.
The kayaks are less comfortable for cool climates because of the exposure to the elements, and they can be dangerous for rough waters.
Though they can come with a hefty price tag, touring kayaks are the best type of kayak for high-intensity kayaking. Touring kayaks are 12 to 17 inches long and come enabled with a tracking system, that is usually a skeg, which is a fin underneath the kayak similar to a fin under a surfboard, a rudder, which is a flat piece of wood, metal, or plastic, hinged vertically near the front of the boat, or a combination of the two.
Touring kayaks also have pointed hulls that are shaped to allow lift in waves and rough water. These types of kayaks are best equipped for traveling long distances in open water, and in harsh conditions.
Most of them are built with plenty of storage space and bulkhead areas. These storage areas trap air, which will enable the kayak to float still, even if the cockpit area fills with water.
Touring kayak cockpits feature a spray skirt, also called a spray deck, which is made to keep water out of the boat. Because of the spray skirt feature, touring kayak cockpits may feel restrictive to some paddlers.
Touring kayaks are made of either a durable, lightweight composite blend or plastic. Although the kayaks can be lighter compared to other types of kayaks, they can be difficult to transport due to their length and awkward shape.
If you are searching for the most portable kayak, inflatable kayaks are the ones to look for. Although inflatable kayaks are often seen as a toy for the swimming pool, they are surprisingly stable and can be used for many different types of water activities.
Inflatable kayaks are best for recreational use in ponds, lakes, or other small bodies of water with little current.
This type of kayak is inflatable by hand, foot, or electric pump. Once the kayaks are deflated, they are easily transportable in an overnight bag or folded in the trunk of your car. Inflatable kayaks are typically 10 to 15 feet long, made of PVC-coated polyester, and are more buoyant than traditional kayaks due to being inflated with air.
Inflatable kayaks are easy to use, light, and easy to turn, however, they are much slower and rugged than a traditional kayak and take a good bit more effort to paddle.
Folding kayaks are another type of kayak that is very simple to transport. When disassembled, most folding kayaks fit into a backpack or small carry-on bag.
Many paddlers prefer folding kayaks over inflatable ones due to their large storage space and stable framework. Their sturdy frame makes for performance similar to that of a traditional, hard-shell kayak. A folding kayak is typically composed of an aluminum frame, with a tough outer skin wrapped around it.
Most folding kayaks have inflatable chambers to allow for more stability and buoyancy. Perhaps the most convenient part of the folding kayak is that once you’re experienced with assembly, you can go from vehicle to kayak in around 15 minutes.
Fishing Kayaks and White Water Kayaks
Finally, fishing kayaks and whitewater kayaks are two other notable kinds of kayaks for consideration. Fishing kayaks are made specifically for fishermen.
They come equipped with rod holders, cooler space, and some feature a built-in tackle box. Most fishing kayaks are stable enough to stand on, for fly fishing purposes.
Whitewater kayaks feature a rounded bottom, made specifically for navigating whitewater rapids and are typically 4 to 10 feet long. If the price tag of whitewater kayaks is off-putting, certain inflatable kayaks can be used for whitewater kayaking.
How to Pick the Kayak Size You Need
Can't talk about how to choose a kayak without bring up that kayaks have all kinds of different dimensions. The most important factors to consider when shopping for a kayak are length, depth, and weight capacity. Length is important due to its factor of mobility.
Shorter kayaks, like whitewater or recreational, are easier to operate, but longer kayaks hold up better for long distance paddling or staying on a straight course. If transporting your kayak from point A to point B is a big concern, the shorter the kayak, the easier to transport.
Depth is something good to consider because the depth of the kayak you select should be comfortable for your size and width. Kayaks should have enough space and leg room to ensure comfort while paddling.
Tall sides are important because they will deflect water. The drawback to tall sides is that they can catch the wind, causing paddling to be more laborious.
Finally, every kayak regardless of type has a weight capacity, which is usually included in the product specs information. Some important factors to note when it comes to weight capacity are the number of paddlers in your boat, the length of trip, and the amount of supplies you will need to hold in your kayak.
What Kind of Materials Kayaks are Made From
When shopping for a kayak, the materials the boat is made from is also important to consider. The materials affect the durability, weight, portability, and price of all types of kayaks. Soft shells are one kind of kayak.
PVC - Rubber
Both inflatable and folding boats are soft shell kayaks. They are typically made of various rubber-like materials. Although the rubber-like materials are soft, they come in a variety of thicknesses and can stand up against punctures, friction, and outdoor elements. Most outdoor stores carry patch kits that can be used to easily and affordably repair a soft shell kayak should the need arise.
Composite material is another type kayak material. Kayaks made of composite materials tend to be higher-end and more expensive. Composite material is made up of fiberglass, carbon, and Kevlar blends. These kayaks tend to be high-performing, easy to transport, and light weight. Although composite boats are strong and hold up to outdoor elements, these kayaks can be very susceptible to damage when launching and docking. Composite boats can be repaired, however, due to the high-end materials, repairs and kayak maintenance can be expensive.
Polyethylene or PE
Perhaps the most popular material for kayaks is plastic. The first type of plastic is polyethylene, also known as PE. PE is inexpensive and resistant to impact and abrasion. PE has a tendency to warp and become brittle when exposed to the sun for long periods of time but will regain its shape when stored in a cool, dark place. Due to the toughness of this material, repairs are likely to be difficult to make.
The second type of plastic is thermoformed ABS. ABS is glossy and look very similar to composite kayaks. Although ABS is more expensive than PE, ABS is more durable in warm climates and can easily be repaired.
Want to know the latest kayak tips, tricks, and reviews?