types of kayaks

Types of kayaks

Find fresh ways to explore coastlines, lakes and fast-moving rivers. Open water, touring, whitewater or racing, there’s a boat for every aquatic setting.

sea and Touring kayaks

Kayaks intended for open water on lakes or oceans are considered touring boats. Some are right for an afternoon paddle, some are built for an extended expedition. Most can handle slower, unobstructed rivers, but not full-on whitewater. Sometimes  called sea kayaks, these boats have a  low, narrow shape allows them to track in a straight line efficiently and slip easily through wind. The low decks also let you brace your knees inside the cockpit for efficient paddling and control when leaning, bracing and rolling.

Recreational kayaks

Designed for day trips or occasional overnight trips on smooth and sheltered waters. Recreational kayaks are shorter and wider than touring or expedition boats. Their width makes them feel reassuringly stable, which is nice for new paddlers. And they have higher decks that offer more interior room and a drier ride in waves. The smaller size is easier to portage and lift onto a car, but the trade-off is that they create more wind resistance, and are less responsive than expedition kayaks.

If you only intend to explore calm waters for just a few hours of fun, and open deck, sit-on-top style might be what you need.  They can accommodate more than one person and you can pile gear on board or bring a pet. They are best for warm climates, as you and your cargo are exposed to the waves and weather. But the open, stable design makes them fun for exploring, as a base for swimming or taking photos, or for playing in the surf.

Whitewater kayaks

Shorter, and more snug-fitting than touring kayaks, these boats are designed for rivers, creeks, waterfalls, rapids, or ocean surf – anywhere the water moves fast. A boat described as a “play boat” is designed to suit paddlers who want to run downriver easily and play in features like holes, standing waves or eddies. They have moderate to high volume, so you don’t have to stay constantly on the move to stay afloat and you have a safety margin if you stray, or get pulled someplace you didn’t intend to go. These boats feature moderately tapered bows and sterns that can be spun and turned relatively easily.

A “freestyle” boat is intended for paddlers who spend time hanging out and having fun in river features, rather than going downstream. To make them manoeuvrable for quick turns and aerial moves, freestyle boats tend to be short and stubby. Many have hard rails (straight lines along the sides) and surfboard-like fins to offer bite for carving aggressive turns in the water. But these features also make them tippy if you shift your weight the wrong way.

The round lines of a “creek boat” provide predictable handling in big water, and are easy to roll. Paddling these boats requires considerable experience and excellent skills to handle boulders and long drops. Creek boats have high-volume hulls for flotation. Their blunt ends surface quickly, and resist getting wedged between rocks and the decks often slope in an inverted V-shape, to allow clean resurfacing after a dive.

Inflatable kayaks

A well-made inflatable offers some unique advantages over hard-shell boats. They are quite seaworthy, easy to store and you can travel to remote places with them.  If you can fit it in a pack, you can transport it on a plane, a vehicle, or even public transportation, making the logistics of getting your boat to the water a simple proposition. If you’re travelling by car, having your boat in the trunk, rather than on the roof, is more efficient and secure. When you reach the water, pump up the craft, clip on a rudder, snap your paddle together, and you’re good to go.

demo a kayak

If you’re thinking about buying a kayak, MEC Paddlefests have boats you can try out without having to travel too far. Many of our stores also have a rental program, so in the summer months, you can rent a kayak package complete with a paddle and PFD. Once you get a feeling for how stable, fast and agile each type of kayak is, you’ll be in a much better position to choose one that’s right for you.