Different Types of Kayaks

If you’re new to the realm of kayaking, you’ll need to know which kayak is the most suitable for you. First, you have to know how many different types of kayaks exist and how different kayak elements can tend to your specific needs. 

Flat Water vs. Whitewater Kayaking

Flatwater kayaks are more geared toward beginners and milder waters. They’re designed for people who want to take chill trips to sightsee and maybe do a little fishing.

Whitewater kayaks can handle strong, high-velocity waters and are designed to give you the speed and precision you need if you’re whitewater paddling.

They’re good for turbulent whitewater rapids and some rivers. Whitewater kayaks are the type of boats you’ll want to get into if you’re going to seek thrills and be adventurous.

Now that you know the difference between the two broad kayak categories, we can discuss the different types of kayaks individually.

Types of Flat Water Kayaks

Let’s take a look at flatwater kayaks first. Just about any kayak we talk about in this section is a good option for beginners and casual kayakers.

Touring Kayaks

Traditional touring kayaks are just that. They’re for touring and taking casual trips and vacations, and they’re designed like your average sit-in kayak.

If you’re looking to relax, fish, and carry cargo, a touring kayak is a great choice. Most touring kayaks have thin hulls so that the users can navigate around obstacles and get through tight spaces.

Day touring kayaks are probably for you if you want to move slowly and enjoy your adventure. Serious touring kayaks are usually about 12 feet long, and they have a slightly smaller cockpit than other kayaks. 

A variant of touring kayaks, sea kayaks have a specially designed hull that allows them to manoeuvre oncoming waves. A sea kayak is a great choice if you plan to use your boat in bays and open water. 

Sea kayaks can be difficult to master for beginners, however, because the V-shaped hull makes them less stable. Sea kayaks can often be rented in areas where kayaking in the ocean is a popular sport. 

Sit-in sea kayaks will be more comfortable if you purchase a spray skirt to use with them. This ‘skirt’ covers the hole for the cockpit in a sit-in kayak to help you stay dry and comfortable. 

Recreational Kayaks

Used by recreational paddlers, recreational kayaks are a bit heavier than other kayaks, and they have a large cockpit for easier exit and entrance. These boats are your average sit inside kayaks, and you might prefer a recreational kayak if you want to take your child with you and have him or her inside the cockpit.

Recreational sit-in kayaks also have ample cargo space in the cockpit, which may be preferable if you plan to use your kayak for longer trips in which you’ll need to pack all of your gear into your kayak. 

Cost-wise, recreational boats are less expensive than your average day touring kayak. They’re also shorter; the longest recreational kayak you’ll probably see is one that’s 10 feet long.

Inflatable Kayaks

Not everyone appreciates inflatable kayaks because they remind some people of toys or play boats. They’re blow-up devices that float on the water. 

They have some advantages over other kayaks. One is that they can stay afloat even if the user capsizes.

Another benefit of inflatable kayaks is that they’re space-friendly. You can downsize and package your kayak away in the closet when you’re not using it.

The disadvantage is that they’re more susceptible to damage than a hard shell kayak. Namely, you could pop your inflatable kayak the first time you touch something sharp, and that could be the end of your adventure. 

Inflatable kayaks are inexpensive, however. Thus, you’ll have plenty of money to invest in another one.

If you’re looking for a space-saving kayak, you might also want to consider folding kayaks. Folding kayaks can provide the durability of rigid kayaks along with added portability and storage ability. 

Sit-On-Top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks got their name from the way the cockpit is designed. Unlike sit-in kayaks, there is no closed cockpit area on these models. 

Instead, the operator sits on a depression on top of the unit. A sit-on-top kayak is very easy to get in and out of, making these sit-on kayaks a popular choice for those that may struggle with traditional sit-inside kayaks. 

These types of kayaks have some disadvantages, though. They have a wider beam that slows them down a little bit. 

Also, the position of the operator can make these units fall over easily while turning. Still, they’re fantastic options if you want to take advantage of the open cockpit during the summer months.

Pedaling Kayaks

Pedaling kayaks are units that are driven mainly by pedals. These are excellent products for people who have back problems and individuals who want to strengthen their leg muscles. 

You might prefer pedal kayaks if your main reason for kayaking is your fitness routine. A pedaling kayak could help you while you’re healing from a back injury as well, as the kayak seat can be outfitted with support and the stress is removed from your arms.

The downside to using a pedaling kayak is that it’s one of the most expensive models. You might end up spending a hefty penny on one of these.

Types of Whitewater Kayaks

Now let’s discuss some of the different types of kayaks in the whitewater category. These are the options you’ll have once you become experienced and more confident in the water:

Old-School Kayaks

Old-school kayaks got their name from being developed during old-school times. They were common and trendy in the 80s and 90s, and you can still find some of them around today. 

The main benefit of old-school kayaks is that they’re very strong, sturdy, and heavy.

The disadvantage of old-school kayaks is that they can be very hard to maneuver. They might not be good for you if you’re a beginner, but they’ll probably be awesome if you’re on a budget. 

You can pick up one of these models for a couple hundred dollars in most cases.


Playboats are cool little models you can have a lot of fun in. Hence, the name “playboats.” 

These are only about eight feet long in length and will typically have a wider planing hull to maximize manoeuvrability. They’re not really designed to travel long distances; they’re made for fooling around in areas that have lots of holes or waves.

Surf kayaks fall into the playboat category. Surf kayaks are designed for kayak surfing, which involves taking your boat out into the ocean surf and riding the waves in it.

Surf skis, another type of playboat, are a kind of sit-on-top kayak that are also commonly used in the ocean. The sit-on-top design keeps the hull from filling with water from the waves, and the boat’s long length gives it a unique speed and versatility. 

Playboats might be good for you if you’re an experienced kayaker who wants to do tricks to show off for your friends. Otherwise, they’re most likely not the best choice for you.

Creek Boats

Creek boats are on the smaller end of the spectrum, but they’re usually very stable because they’re crafted of the highest-quality materials. People looking for a fishing kayak will likely enjoy using a creek boat. 

Fishing kayaks often come equipped with rod holders and other features that add to the ease of your fishing experience.

In addition to taking their kayak fishing, some people use creek boats to go out and take pictures of wildlife as well. These fishing kayaks are also known as creekers, and they may not be the best option for beginners because of how their hulls are designed.

Duckies and Inflatables

Duckies and inflatables are named such because you can blow or pump air into them and then take them out on the water. Their design is wide, which makes them much more stable than other types of inflatable kayaks, and the fact that they’re also affordable makes them a great option for beginners.

A kayaking school is likely to rent you a duckie shortly after you complete a new course to learn how to kayak. 

These units have many high points, but they also have some downsides. One of the downsides to using an inflatable kayak is that you might have a little difficulty when turning.

River Runners

The river runners are the highest performers of all the different types of kayaks. They’re about eight feet long and on the heavy side so that they can handle river rapids and such; they’re specifically designed to get you down the river as quickly as possible.

You can expect high performance when you’re traveling down the river. You can even do some tricks in one of these models, but you’ll only have limited ability. 

River runners are your best option for lakes and rivers. Some say that river runners are a cross between creek boats and playboats, but they also have their own unique flavor that you might enjoy. 

The price range of riverboats varies from as little as $400 to more than $1,000. The fee you pay will mostly depend on the features you choose and the design that tickles your fancy the most.

There are many other different types of kayaks to choose from that you can select for your adventures, such as sail kayaks, diving kayaks, racing kayaks, and more. These are specialized kayaks that are popular with some serious kayakers.

If you’re struggling to narrow down the type of kayaking you want to do, consider a crossover kayak. Crossover boats are designed to take on different water types. 

Elements of a touring kayak along with recreational kayaks and whitewater kayaks all combine to create crossover kayaks. Crossover kayaks are a great option for those that plan to explore many different areas and types of kayaking.

An increasingly popular model that we didn’t discuss in detail today is the SUP/kayak hybrid. These vessels are a combination of a stand-up paddleboard and a sit-on-top kayak that have grown in popularity recently as the SUP community continues to grow.

Take your time to stop and think about the qualities you want in a kayak. 

The first thing you need to consider is what stage of kayaking you’re at. Then you need to think about which features will give you the leverage you desire for the activity. 

Once you do that, you’ll be on your way to finding the best option.

Frequently Asked Questions About Kayaks

These are some frequently asked questions people ask about kayaks. You can find some additional information for your kayaking journey here:

How’s a Kayak Different From a Canoe?

Quite a few differences exist between kayaks and canoes. The main difference between the two boats is that the paddles differ: canoes only use single-bladed paddles, while kayaks use double-bladed paddles.

These two boats are also structurally different. Kayaks have closed decks, and canoes have open decks and pointier ends.

Both types of boats are lightweight and loads of fun to operate. If you’re looking for the fastest option, a kayak would be your best choice, while canoes might be slightly better to navigate ergonomically.

Which Kayaks Are Best for Rapids?

You will need to select a whitewater kayak if you plan to hit the rapids. You will want to choose one of the river runner whitewater kayaks, preferably one with a long body as this can give you more stability in turbulent waters.

A longboat or old-school kayak may be good for your journey as well. They typically have long bodies that can take a beating and handle rough waters if there’s enough flat water between the rapids. 

Many whitewater kayakers appreciate that old-school kayaks tend to be more affordable, too. That might be another reason to look into them.

What’s the Best Complete Beginner Kayak?

The best type of kayak for a complete beginner is something that’s on the shorter end of the spectrum and is very stable. You may want to choose a model that’s a little bit heavier than the rest. 

You don’t want to choose something that’s too hard to maneuver, and you won’t want something frail that will easily tip over if you aren’t careful.

You also may want to think about purchasing a tandem kayak, so two people can fit in it. That way, you and your mentor or instructor can get into the kayak together and be close to each other. 

You can switch kayaks once you feel comfortable about taking the journey on your own, but you may find you enjoy the company that tandem kayaks offer. If you plan to make kayaking a family activity, you may find that tandem kayaks are perfect for keeping everyone together.

How Can I Find an Affordable Kayak?

You can find an affordable kayak using a variety of methods. One method you may want to use is to look for a used model in classified ads and online auctions.

You could also search for an old-school kayak. Old-school kayaks are heavier and sturdier than many other models. 

The best feature of them, though, is that they are highly affordable. You will likely be able to find one in the price range of a couple hundred dollars.

New kayaks can be costly. It’s better to spend as little cash as possible for your first time so that you can see if you enjoy the experience. 

You might even want to rent your first kayak. Many recreation shops on lakes and rivers have touring kayaks and recreational kayaks that you can rent to find out if you enjoy the sport. 

How Many People Can Fit In a Kayak?

The amount of people that can fit into your kayak really depends on the type of unit you buy. Of course, you can invest in solo kayaks that only fit one person in them. 

However, some models allow up to four people to fit into the kayak with one person in the cockpit. That might be the kayak you prefer if you want to take your entire family kayaking together. 

Keep in mind that this type of kayak is likely to be the most expensive option.

Choose Your Kayak Wisely

Now that you have a lot more insight into the various kayak types, you are ready to make an informed decision and choose a kayak for your outdoor adventures!