A Guide To Different Types of Kayaks

types of kayaks

If you are unfamiliar with the world of kayaking, it can be difficult to wrap your head around the various types of kayaks available. At the budget end of the market, you will find inflatable kayaks designed with occasional use in mind, with reasonable steering ability designed for flat water conditions. Those with more to spend can look to purchase touring yaks, while those seeking a real thrill can consider a range of whitewater yak options. Our guide includes all the essential information you need to get familiar with the various types of kayaks currently available on the market.

Different Types of Kayaks

To make sense of kayak varieties, it is worth considering the two main categories. The first category is flat water kayaks, which broadly refers to sit-inside and sit-on-top kayaks, as well as inflatable kayaks, pedal kayaks, touring kayaks and so on. Whitewater kayaks are the other key category. Whitewater kayaks encompasses individual yak varieties like playboats, creekboats, inflatables and more. We will delve into the specifics of each individual kayak type below.

Flat Water Kayak Varieties

On of the most common types of flat water kayak is the so-called recreational kayak. Recreational yaks feature an enclosed cockpit, but almost always provide the user with a large cockpit opening for easy access to the interior. Recreational kayaks are fairly short, certainly when compared to touring kayaks. The total length of a recreational kayak will rarely exceed ten feet. The closed cockpit makes them a versatile choice of yak. In warmer weather, you can leave the cockpit open, allowing cool air to circulate within, keeping you from overheating. When kayaking in colder weather, you can use a kayak spray skirt to close the cockpit, insulating yourself against the cold weather. Generally speaking, recreational kayaks tend to be an affordable option.

The shorter length of a recreational kayak also makes them fairly portable. You should have no trouble picking up and carrying a recreational yak single-handedly. They are also easy to secure to a roof rack. A big drawback of the shorter length of this type of kayak is that they have poor tracking ability. Should you encounter rough waters or windy weather, you may struggle to keep your kayak travelling in a straight line. Although this type of kayak is fairly manoeuvrable, you will struggle to make turns when out on the open water. There are some ways to overcome this issue, however. Adding a skeg to the underside of your kayak will significantly improve its tracking ability.

Sit-Inside & Sit-on-Top Kayaks

Another flat water yak model to consider is a sit-on-top kayak. This type of kayak does not feature a closed cockpit, which makes them particularly easy to climb onto and dismount. Compared to other flat water kayaks, sit-on-top yaks are fairly wide. This provides you with excellent stability. Anglers often find this type of kayak a good fit for their needs as they can cast off easily without losing balance and chancing a capsize situation. Provided your sit-on-top kayak has a decent amount of storage space, you should also be able to carry a good deal of fishing gear with you. If you are looking for fishing kayaks, make sure you go for a model that includes essential features like rod holders. A downside of this variety of watercraft is that kayakers tend to get very wet when paddling. The lack of a cockpit and the open design means it is nigh on impossible to avoid splashes. However, if you are kayaking on calm water, this should not prove much of an issue.

Sit-in kayaks are another option to consider. This type of kayak includes an open cockpit area that the paddler can enter easily. Once inside, the paddler sits on a seat that is incorporated into the hull of the kayak, with their legs extended forward underneath the deck. If you opt for this type of yak, you should carefully consider the type of seat included. The most basic sit-inside kayaks will include threadbare seats that may or may not offer an additional backrest. They may also include footrests, with molded and adjustable options available. In an ideal world, you want a cushioned seat with backrest that allows for a degree of adjustment, allowing you change your position when paddling. A footrest will also enhance comfort when paddling, while also allowing you to brace your knees and legs when on the water.

Inflatable Kayaks

If you are looking for a more convenient choice of kayak that is easy to transport, an inflatable kayak is a very good option. Inflatable yaks are easy to store and transport, making them a good option for those who need to travel long distances to a body of water. When deflated and correctly folded, an inflatable yak will take up minimal space in the trunk of your car. You will even find some folding kayaks that can be stored in a wearable backpack when fully deflated. The best inflatable yaks will feature a good amount of storage space and should include basics like paddle holders and carrying handles. While convenient to transport, inflatable kayaks have a lot of shortcomings. For a start, they offer relatively poor tracking ability. If you are looking for greater control of your yak, you should think about a different type altogether. There is also the danger of your inflatable kayak suffering a puncture when out on the water. Although most kayaks of this variety come with puncture repair kits, you will not be able to rectify every issue and may eventually need to replace the kayak entirely.

Pedal Kayaks

If you find paddling an exhausting exercise, you may want thin about purchasing a pedal kayak. In theory, pedalling kayaks allow you to dispense with paddles altogether, instead relying on your legs to steer and travel across the water. They are also a good choice if you want to cross greater distances, with no need to worry about tiring yourself out by paddling manually. This type of kayak is often preferred by hunters and fishermen as they allow you to travel through the water more quietly, producing minimal splashes that might disturb potential prey. They are very good for exploring new hunting grounds, especially when you want to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Unfortunately, pedalling kayaks are fairly expensive. However, if you are confident that extensive paddling is beyond your capabilities, they can be a worthwhile investment.

Touring Kayaks

If you want to achieve greater speeds on flat water, a touring kayak is something to seriously consider. Touring kayaks are fairly long when compared to inflatables and recreational yaks, with the hull usually measuring a minimum of 12 feet. They also tend to have fairly small cockpits, as well as a narrower width. If you are a competent kayaker, a touring yak is a good fit. The narrow design and long hull will allow you to cut through the water quickly, while the profile of the craft allows for good tracking ability. Most touring kayaks utilise a rudder to provide you with superb turning ability. The tight cockpit also means that, should you capsize, you can brace yourself against the interior of the hull and flip yourself back into an upright position. A downside of touring kayaks is that they are fairly expensive. The larger dimensions of a touring kayak also makes them difficult to transport and harder to store. However, if you are looking for something to transport you across longer distances, they are a real winner.

Tandem Kayaks

Many of the above kayak types can also be a tandem yak. A tandem kayak is essentially any kayak that includes two seats. Tandem kayaks tend to feature a longer hull to accommodate a second seat and occupant, which is why they are usually only found within the touring category. Many kayaks include a removable second set which can be taken out of the cockpit when you want to paddle alone. If you are interested in purchasing a tandem kayak, consider how much legroom and cockpit space you and your fellow paddler may need to comfortably paddle across bodies of water. The most compact of tandem kayaks may prove to small for even average sized users and may only be suitable for short sessions on the water.

Whitewater Kayaks

If you want a craft you can take out onto rougher waters, a whitewater yak is a must. However, not all whitewater kayaks are suitable for use on choppy waters. A river runner is a good place to start if you are looking to tackle flowing bodies of water with a good degree of chop. These kayaks are usually quite short, rarely exceeding 8 feet in length. Although fairly short, they still provide decent tracking ability that will allow you to keep on course as you head downriver. However, they are short enough that you can manoeuvre through tight spots without colliding with riverbanks and other obstacles. Most river runners are fairly comfortable and will provide you with sufficient storage space for your essential kayak accessories.

An alternative to a river runner is a creeker, otherwise known as a creekboat. These kayaks are fairly similar to river runners, especially when it comes to dimensions. However, they tend to be more substantial in their build. This allows them to withstand awkward drops along the course of the river. They will almost always include a comfortable seat to ensure you remain locked in place during your journey, which is very important in preventing injury. If you are a complete novice when it comes to kayaking, a creeker is probably something to avoid. They are designed for a specific purpose and have unique features that will take some getting used to if you wish to maintain good control over your yak.

If you want to enjoy freestyle kayaking, a playboat is something to think about. This type of whitewater kayak is designed specifically for those who want to practice and perform technical moves. However, they are not designed for travelling down meandering rivers. Rather, they are intended to be used in one place. You will need to have some decent levels of stamina in order to hold your ground while playboating, so avoid purchasing one if you want something you can run along a river with.

You will also find a good selection of inflatable whitewater kayaks on the market. Unlike flat water kayaks which are relatively basic in their design, inflatable whitewater kayaks (otherwise known as duckies) are very robust and designed to withstand serious punishment on the water. If you go for a wider yak, an inflatable whitewater craft can prove to be very stable. They are also fairly generous when it comes to storage capacity, with many hatches and dry storage compartments on hand to house all of your gear.

Finally, you can look into long boat kayaks. These are sometimes referred to as old school kayaks as they have largely fallen out of favour with most paddlers. Once very popular, these long kayaks still have plenty of appeal. With a length of around 12 feet, they are a longer option than many other types of yak. If you are looking to run rivers with few rapids and plenty of flat water stretches, this extra length will come in handy. However, the downside of the longer length is that they can be difficult to control when it comes to turning. Another drawback of this older style of kayak is that they have fairly tight cockpits. This makes them a reasonably uncomfortable choice.

Picking the Right Type of Kayak for Your Requirements

You should now have enough information to help you make the right choice when selecting a suitable kayak for your needs. If you are a complete novice and want to practice your technique on flat water, a basic inflatable kayak can be an inexpensive and practical option. However, you will ultimately need to replace it when you migrate to more challenging conditions. Want to fish from your kayak? A sit-on yak is definitely something to think about, although many sit-inside kayaks are designed with angling in mind.

If you are more experienced with a paddle and want to face the rapids, a whitewater kayak is a must. River runners and creekers are undoubtedly the best choices for those looking to master rapids and meander along the course of a river, but playboats are another option to consider if you want to showcase your technique.


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