Everything You Need to Know About the Different Types of Kayaks - Moosejaw

Everything You Need to Know About the Different Types of Kayaks

Are sit-on-top kayaks good for rivers? Which is the best kayak for beginners? What is the difference between touring and recreational kayaks? Understanding the different types of kayaks and their uses is crucial to having the best day out on the water. Whether you’re buying or renting or paddling in salt water or lake water, Moosejaw gives you everything you need to know about kayaking.

Types of Activities

Recreational and Adventure Paddling: Recreational kayaking refers to paddling on lakes or calm, slow-moving bodies of water such as rivers. Adventure kayaking is all about exploring the water and having some casual paddling fun. Both of these activities are ideal for beginners. We recommend kayaking shoes that are comfortable for you, as you’ll most likely be taking it easy and may want something, such as sandals or water shoes, that are easy to slip on and off for a dip in the water.

Touring and Sea Paddling: Touring is when you’re out on the water for long days, going far distances, and need an efficient kayak to give you speed and stability. Sea paddling is specific to open, rougher waters and may require a kayak with increased tracking features to make paddling easier. Because you’ll be on the water for a while, we recommend kayaking shoes that are secure, warm and comfortable even when they’re wet. Try out some water shoes or waterproof sandals and see how they fare.

Whitewater Paddling: Whitewater paddling is in rough, churning waters and should be avoided by novice paddlers because of the skill required to maneuver a kayak around in choppy wake. It’s intense and exciting, but best if you get your feet wet with more basic kayaking before thinking about trying out the rapids. Speaking of feet, you may want to take kayaking shoes a little more seriously for this type of paddling. We recommend waterproof shoes that are sturdy and have lots of grip just in case you need to get out of the ‘yak in rougher, rocky waters.

Types of Kayaks

Inflatable: These kayaks require a pump to fill them with air before paddling but are easy to store and transport when not in use. They’re sturdy and durable but still flexible, making them great in rougher waters, such as during whitewater paddling, or for recreational riding on moving water with rocks and debris that could damage a solid kayak.

Foldable: Like inflatable kayaks, these pack down for easy storage and transportation, but they fold down rather than deflate. They’re great for those that love to travel but don't have (or want) a roof rack or lack the room for storage of a solid kayak. These work best for recreational and sea paddling as well general touring.

Solid: The sturdiest of all, solid kayaks keep their shape at all times and can be easily transported if you have the right accessories (i.e. roof rack, trailer). Although they’re heavier, they can take a beating if you need to drag them along the ground and they’re ready to go whenever you need them, no pumping or origami required. These kayaks are great for any type of paddling you want to do.

Sit-inside: These kayaks feature a cockpit that you slip into, rather than onto, so everything from your waist down is virtually covered. This helps prevent water from getting into the boat or onto your body and makes paddling on rougher water feel a little more secure. Add a kayak skirt over the cockpit to create more coverage and really keep the water out. These are best for touring, whitewater conditions and those looking to stay dry on their rides.

Sit-on-top: As the name suggests, this kayak forgoes the cockpit entirely and frees up your legs for more movement. Keep in mind, however, that because you’re more exposed to the elements, you’ll also get any spray from the water and whatever else Mother Nature throws your way. Best for recreational and adventure paddling on calm water, these truly shine when you want a little more freedom to move around. They’re also great for swimming or kayak fishing excursions, as you have easy entry and exit from the ‘yak as well as plenty of on top storage.


6.5’ to 9’: These kayaks are best for activities where you need something easy to maneuver or something that will fit in tight spaces. It works well in whitewater conditions or adventure paddling.

10’ to 12’: Mid-size kayaks are versatile for any type of paddling but thrive on recreation and adventure rides. They have wide, stable bodies to keep you upright and will often feature a large cockpit to accommodate paddlers of any size.

13’ and up: Designed to go in a straight line (track) as effortlessly as possible, these kayaks are made for long trips over calm or slightly choppy water. Their roomy shape allows for more gear storage, meaning you can be gone all day without leaving important stuff behind.


Though their hull shapes are very defined, kayaks often blend a few styles together in order to create the most efficient boat. Below are four of the most distinct shapes, each creating a different feel on the water.

V-shaped: These look just as they sound: pointed at the bottom to form a “V” shape that allows the kayak to easily slice into the water. Best for touring, these kayaks are also quick on the water. That being said, they’re generally less stable, as they don’t have a wide base to keep them from rocking if the water gets rough.

Round: Like the V-shaped hull, these also look just like they sound. Because the bottom lacks angles to efficiently catch on the water, they’re easily maneuverable in rougher conditions, making them ideal for whitewater paddling or other choppy water activities.

Flat: Considered the most do-all shape, the flat hull is stable and handles well if some difficult water comes along. It’s fast, easy to maneuver and great for days when you want to ride recreationally or cruise around to find the best fishing spot.

Pontoon: Similar to the engine boat, the pontoon hull has two larger sides and a concave center. This is the most stable of all of the hull shapes but at the sacrifice of some speed. It sits wide on the water, meaning that waves have less of an effect on the paddler, creating an easy ride for beginners or those wanting a comfortable recreational experience.


Polyethylene: A fancy word for plastic. These kayaks are rotomolded to create the desired shape, and they often cost less and hold up pretty well against damage.

Fiberglass: A stiffer boat, but also much lighter in weight. It'll cost you a pretty penny, and if you impact a rock, it is more likely to crack and take on damage.

Wood: Wooden boats are a beautiful craft, but they're either going to cost you a bunch if you find a skilled woodworker or it'll cost you a whole buncha time to make on your own.

Tracking Features

Skeg: A skeg is a retractable blade that can be dropped from the keel (bottom of the boat), towards the stern (back of the boat) to help you track. The skeg depth can be controlled by the paddler as necessary.

Rudder: A rudder can be dropped into the water at the paddler's preference and rests on the stern deck when not in use. The main difference with a rudder is the ability to pivot it side to side, allowing you to steer the boat with the use of the pedals at your feet.

Go Naked: You can always "go naked” and choose not to get a skeg or rudder. You'll have to rely on paddle skills and edging to get the boat to go where you want it to, which could prove difficult if the wind picks up or water currents become too strong. Paddlers might choose this route to show off their skills, power and general toughness.

You may be excited to get out on the water right away, but you do need paddles to actually get moving. If you already know your way around, go ahead and check out these kayak paddles for sale. If you’re not confident quite yet, find out which paddle is right for you.

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