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How to Choose a Kayak – Guide to Different Types of Kayaks

How to choose a kayak
Written by Jessica Herron
Last Update: August 14, 2023

A kayak is essential if you want to explore beachside campgrounds, enjoy scenic views, and fun leisure activities (like fishing). As there are lots of ways to use a kayak, there are lots of choices as well to make. So, how to choose a suitable kayak for you? Well, consider these factors to buy the best kayak according to your need.

  • Where do you want to kayak?
  • Sit-in Kayak or Sit-on-top Kayak?
  • Kayak Shape, Size, and Weight
  • Your budget

Choosing the Kayak Based on the Water You Want to Paddle

Although water types do not always determine which type of kayak you should buy, still it plays an important role while choosing a kayak. A lot of kayaks are out there which are categorized for the different types of water. For example, most inflatable kayaks are designed for fresh lake water. There are only a few inflatable kayaks available which can handle salty water. Let’s dig more!

Kayak for Lake

If you are considering kayaking on calm, fresh lake water in fine weather then, any sit-on-top kayak or recreational kayak will work just fine for you. You can choose sit-in recreational kayak or sit-on-top recreational kayak as your need. Inflatables kayak is also great value for these types of kayaking as they offer great portability with fewer prices. However, if you want to go to the big lake like Lake Superior then, your choices may need to vary.

Coasts Kayaking

This is where you will get wind, whitecaps, tides, currents, waves and more to play with. So, if you do not want to get drenched, choose a sit-in kayak with skeg or rudder. However, if you are living in a warm atmosphere and you plan to go for a swim or kayak surfing the sit-on-top kayak can also be a good choice. For either of the purpose, ocean kayak can be an ideal choice for kayaking on this type of water.

Kayaking on The River

Kayaking on the river requires a sturdy and stable kayak which can turn quickly. For this reason, if you are decided to go for river kayaking for recreational purposes then, try to buy stable, short recreational kayak which is made with quality material.

Kayak for Both Lakes and Rivers

How to pick a kayak that works well in both lakes and rivers? Well, if you want to kayak that can perform in both still and flowing water, go for a short and sturdy sit-on-top or sit-in kayak. Your kayak can also be the recreational or touring type, depending on your reason to use it.

A better option here is buying a crossover kayak with skeg. Skeg will allow you to move swiftly and turn over quickly. You can also go for rudder, but rudders are only found with larger kayaks.

Kayak Types: Sit-In vs. Sit-On-Top

If you want to know more about choosing a kayak, you have to learn about the different types as well. Generally, there are two types of kayaks available based sitting arrangement. Those are Sit-in kayak and Sit-on-top kayak. Let’s find out more about each of these types.

Sit-On-Top Kayak

Sit-on-top kayaks are generally for recreational purposes and are for easy flowing rivers and lakes. However, you can also find these kayaks in coastal waters especially in warm environments. There are also a few sit-on-top kayaks available which offer storage space for an overnight trip. The main characteristics of Sit-on-top kayaks are;

  • Sit-on-top kayaks are easy to ride and get off
  • Comfortable for a warm environment
  • Have scooper holes, no need of pumping out water
  • Have covered cargo space inside the hull
  • Heavier

Sit-In Kayak

Sit-in kayaks can be either recreational, touring or day touring. These kayaks move fast and have well-covered cargo space. These kayaks are suitable for a long trip to a destination. The main characteristics of Sit-in kayaks are;

  • Comfortable for cold atmosphere
  • Need pumping if the kayak gets much water
  • Can be used for still water as well as rough coastal waters
  • More efficient to paddle


Categories of Kayak

Kayak category is an essential factor in choosing the best kayak for your need. For some manufacturer like perception kayaks, features of different categories may mismatch, but the basic terms remain the same. Let’s find out more!

Recreational Kayak

Recreational kayak can be both sit-in and sit-on-top types. These are stable, affordable, easier to turn and easy to ride and get off. These kayaks are suitable for still water, lakes and meandering rivers. However, you should not use these kayaks for coastal kayaking, long trip and rapids, and waves. These kayaks also offer limited space for few materials.

Day-Touring Kayak

Day touring kayak is a type of versatile boat that offers more efficient movement feature than another type of kayaks. These sleek boats can provide more control for tough water. Day-touring kayaks are smaller in size than ocean kayaks, and hence these kayaks are easy to operate and transport. They also offer moderate cargo space.

Touring Kayak

Touring kayaks are long, robust boat which is specially designed for long distance kayaking. These kayaks can be tracked well and consist of skeg or rudder to deal the current and wind. These kayaks provided ample space for cargo and made with the higher quality of materials; hence pricey.

Other Types of Kayak

There are different types of kayak also for particular purposes. For example, most below mentioned kayaks are ideal for you if are low on space, want to kayak with someone special or for focused use like fishing. Learn more about these types of kayaks.

Folding Kayak

If you are running out space or living in an apartment and planning to travel or hike with a kayak then definitely a folding kayak will help you out in this scenario. Well, a folding kayak is not that much sturdy and hard-shell boat, but it is lightweight, portable, easy to store and handle.

Inflatable Kayak

Inflatable kayaks are also great for saving storage space. It is lightweight and comparatively versatile and sturdy. Most of these kayaks are recreational models and cannot go as fast as other types. So, inflatable kayaks are good for short trips in a slow river or lake. There are also some rugged, wide inflatable kayaks which can be used in flowing rivers also.

Fishing Kayak

Fishing kayak is designed in a way that, most anglers get the benefit of using these types of kayaks. These kayaks offer rod holders, fish keeping cargo spaces and sometimes pedal propulsion mechanism for hands-free usage.

Tandem Kayak

Does your partner often want to go with you for kayaking? Well, if so, you can save some cash by buying a two-seated tandem kayak instead of buying separate ordinary kayaks. Tandem kayaks are more stable with two riders, and it’s an excellent choice if you want to take your partner or kids along. However, going solo with the tandem kayak is a bit uncomfortable experience. So, you should take a partner with you whenever you go kayaking.

Kayak Price, Materials, and Weight

A lightweight kayak is highly efficient in carrying and paddling. A light kayak also offers the flexibility of carrying more equipment. However, the tradeoff here is that a lightweight kayak is more costly than ordinary kayaks.

Polyethylene Plastics are inexpensive but produces heavier kayak. Polyethylene is also vulnerable to direct sunlight and degrade if exposed for a longer time. So, store your polyethylene plastic made kayak in a covered place, away from sunlight.

ABS Plastic is slightly pricier than polyethylene but provides similar durability. Higher priced ABS Plastic will also offer lighter kayak and even UV resistance. Composite material like lightweight carbon fiber and fiberglass provide great quality over price. UV rays are not a problem for these lightweight kayaks.

Final Words

Among all the nice and beautifully designed kayak, it can feel daunting to choose the right one. So, how to choose? Well, there are certain types and specification which defines the usability of a kayak. Hopefully after reading this article, you’ll be make a decision for yourself easily.
However, while buying your long-cherished kayak, you can also consider some other criteria like length, weight capacity, and width. Don’t forget to wear protective clothing when going out fishing. If you need more information regarding purchasing one of the best kayaks, do not hesitate to write us back.

About the author

Jessica Herron

Hi! This is Jessica. I can be your virtual outdoor buddy, lol! My friends call me a devotee of adventure. I believe, as any outdoor enthusiast does, adventures are all about the thrill. My love consists of a mix of fishing and camping in the wild, if you ask (what thrills you most?). So, I could be of help (through my articles on this website) to any adventure seeker as long as backpacking, survival, camping, hiking, and fishing are concerned. Are you planning to take a trip to the wild next weekend? Maybe, you already are in the middle of a journey. No matter where you are, my words are on the air!

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