When most people think of kayaks, they think of a small, single-seater used for floating around a lake or calm river. There are actually over a dozen types and subtypes of kayaks available. Some are designed for sea kayaking, fishing, and even intense whitewater kayaking.
Each category of kayak incorporates different materials for an optimal design. Anything from wood, fiberglass, molded plastics, and other materials are used. A lot of what determines what a kayak will be made out of is the body of water it is being purposed for as well as the price point the manufacturer is looking to sell at.
Most Popular Types of Kayaks
- Recreational Kayaks. Recreational kayaks are the most common type of kayak and those of which you will most often see in outdoor supply stores like REI and Cabellas. These can be used mainly for anyone who is looking to get out on the lake and quietly paddle around and enjoy the scenery. While you can still get around pretty quick when you put some muscle into it, most of these kayaks are really optimized for speed.
- Inflatable Kayaks. Inflatables are a subcategory of recreational kayaks. They use air to stay buoyant. These are very good recreational type of kayak for beginners or those who want to see if they will enjoy kayaking before making an investment in a hard shell kayak. The only problem with these is that they are very fragile. On the bright side, they are the easiest to transport.
- Sea Kayaks. Just as the name would imply these are designed for the rolling waves of the sea. Sea kayaks are generally much longer than your average kayak (about 15 feet or longer). These can be found in both one person and two person models. A lot of these kayaks feature lots of storage room so you can have everything you need for a day out on the sea close at hand.
- Whitewater Kayaks. Constructed for performance, thrill seekers and those of us looking for a challenge will enjoy whitewater kayaks. They are made for white water rapids and are extremely durable. They can take a hit or two from a rock (or boulder) and keep chugging along no problem. These kayaks are usually smaller, typically with a wider base for stability in rough water, and easier to maneuver. A lot of craftsmanship go into them to offer the right balance of stability and maneuverability.
- Racing Kayaks. These are much narrower than the average kayak and usually longer. Built for speed, racing kayaks do well in flat water sprints and marathons. Single racing kayaks are referred to as K1s, doubles as K2s, and four mans as K4s.
- Fishing Kayaks. These are perfect for a day of relaxation and fishing. Fishing kayaks make it possible to reach special fishing areas that you couldn’t reach otherwise with a larger vessel. Plus, you won’t scare away the fish! These are also available in pedal or motorized versions, too.
- Surf Kayaks. This is a variation of the sea kayak. If you were to take a whitewater kayak and racing kayak and make a hybrid, you’d get a surf kayak. These are narrow like a racing kayak and are designed for catching waves. These are great for water rescues as well because they handle waves very well and get out quickly to a person in need.
- Sit-in Kayaks. Sit-in kayaks are the traditional design type of the kayak. Paddlers sit inside the cockpit. They are a bit harder to get into and out of. However, you are much less likely to get wet in a sit in kayak. This design is common in high quality racing, whitewater, and sea kayaks. They provide great stability and are equally efficient in flatwater and whitewater conditions.
- Sit-on-top Kayaks. As the name suggests, sit on top kayaks are those wherein the paddler sits on top of the kayak instead of sitting in a cockpit. Paddlers must be prepared to get wet while paddling in a sit on top kayak. They are easy to get into. There is a gentle depression on top of the kayak where the paddler sits. Paddlers must carry a dry bag to store their gear and prevent it from getting wet while riding in a sit on top kayak.
- Tandem Kayaks. Tandem simply means a two person kayak. We suggest getting a little experience in a single kayak before trying a tandem kayak. You may find yourself in a bickering match before long as your rowing one way and your partner the other.
- Kids Kayaks. These are much less expensive than a full sized adult kayak. The cockpit is smaller, and sometimes these kayaks will have foam floaties built in, keeping the little ones afloat at all times. It lightweight and easy to maneuver. We recommend only taking these out on calm lakes and rivers.
Buy a Kayak According to What You Want to Do
For beginners, those who aren’t sure what they want to do yet, and those who just want to quickly get out and start kayaking we recommend a recreational kayak. All you need is a paddle and you can go out and tackle the local rivers and lakes. If you want to fish using your kayak, then look for kayak specially designed for that purpose. They have additional features that will help you fish such as fishing rod holders, tackle storage, and drink holders (a must have feature for any true fisher). If you want to use your kayak for ocean paddling, you should look for models that are longer and offer plenty of stability when traversing the waves.
Before you look for the cheapest kayak out there, we caution you against this strategy. You don’t want to take on whitewater rapids or the ocean in a flimsy inflatable kayak unless you’re looking for the ultimate challenge (and don’t care much for your well-being). You will get some very odd looks as you mount your inflatable on the bank of a fast moving river. On the other hand, you don’t want to spend $1,000 are your first kayak. You may find you only want to kayak a few times a year, in which case you just wasted a lot of money.
The recreational kayak category is a good safe zone to stay within. They are perfect for any kayaker, regardless of their paddling experience. You have different accessorizing options depending your specific needs and budget. Some models are even outfitted with a child seat that is removable. Some are wider and have roomy cockpits, plenty of leg room, and ample storage space.
Pedal Powered vs. Paddle Kayaks
Pedal powered kayaks offer great speed and efficiency relative to paddle power. You’ll get more endurance out of your legs than your arms, and a peddle device is going to provide sustained propelling speed to your kayak. Plus, you get hands free control, because pedal devices also feature a rudder system that can easily adjusted. This is why so many fishermen prefer pedals because it frees up their hands to handle their fishing gear.
Paddle kayaks are best when the rider wants to keep in simple. Getting into the water requires less steps. This is the traditional way of the kayaker, and it feels right to be smoothly paddling from one side to the other. Generally these are much less expensive than pedal powered kayaks. While you may tire more quickly, oftentimes people choose kayaking for the exercise part of things, and paddling is an excellent upper body and core workout.
Go Fish: Features to Look for in Fishing Kayak
As mentioned in the section before, many fishers prefer pedal powered fishing kayaks. The one sticking point is the affordability factor, most pedal fishing kayaks start around $2,000, while a quality paddle fishing kayak can be had for around $300-500.
The one argument some fishers make for a paddle operated kayak is that they are less disruptive. The propeller and rudder underneath the kayak can stir things up more than someone who is gently paddling. Plus, more underwater clearance is required in order to use pedal drive.
Regardless of which type you choose, you’ll want to consider the water conditions you will be met with out on your fishing trips. If you have to travel a long way and aren’t in the best of shape for instance, you may even want to consider a model that you can mount a motor to. Other than that, make sure to find one that has enough storage and rod holders for your fishing setup and if you have a fishing buddy go for a tandem fishing kayak.