types of kayaks

Different Types of Kayaks & Canoes – Beginner’s Guide

Confused about all the different types of kayaks on the market today? Choosing the right one can certainly be a confusing process. However, we’re here to save the day and help you choose the right kayak for you!

The type of model you choose will depend on the activity you wish to do. Perhaps you’d like to experience the thrill of whitewater rapids, tour the seas or go for an easy paddle every weekend on your local lake or river. When you determine your favorite activities first, you’re ready to start your search.

Kayak Categories

Let’s take a look at three kayak categories to help get your search underway.

creek boatCreek Boats:

Creek boats are a fantastic choice for anyone who likes to fish in hard-to-reach places and tackle whitewater rapids. The chines (where the sidewall meets the bottom of the hull) provide solid carving control for tight turns and maneuvers. Creek boats come in various lengths and selection will depend on the exact creek you plan to kayak on.

play boat

Play Boats:

Play boats are generally used for surfing waves and enjoying freestyle tricks.

Decks are squashed, which lets the kayaker have the ends sink underwater and perform special play moves. The volume is centered in the cockpit, allowing for more stability. In today’s market, play boats have a planing hull which is flat and lets the kayak plane to the surface of the body of water (when picking up speed).

With this type of boat, the boat may spin around a central point. That is what makes flat spins possible. Also, chines can be used to create drag, so that any paddler can intentionally prepare for a specific move.

river boatRiver Boats:

River boats are ones that can be categorized as something between high volume creekers and low volume play boats. The main intention when using this boat is to cruise down the river in a comfortable manner, while still being able to make some essential play moves. River boats in actuality will have mid to high volume bow decks that move water quickly.

Their decks will also be mid to high volume. These boats are usually a little bit longer than the design of today’s freestyle boats. The added length increases the tracking ability of the kayak and allows it to move better in a straight line.

Choosing Different Types of Kayaks

Now it’s time to get specific, in terms of which model suits your kayaking lifestyle.

Whitewater Kayaks – This is the ultimate kayaking experience which involves tackling rapids. Whitewater kayaks can navigate normal moving rivers, to extremely fast bodies of water. These kayaks don’t track (go in a straight line) so they are very maneuverable. The tight cockpit is designed to keep you on deck, even if water conditions are brutal.

Sit-On-Top Kayaks – Easy to use, stable for fishing trips and good for beginners and recreational paddlers. Nearly all sit-on-top kayaks are self-bailing, which means any water that comes over the deck will automatically drain itself out. They are normally extra wide and don’t allow the paddler as much movement control as whitewater kayaks.

Sit-In Kayaks – Sit-in kayaks allow for more storage and keep you quite dry (due to efficient hull designs). Therefore, they allow for extended paddling sessions. They have a fitted cockpit (the area where you sit) which allows for more control with your body. Sit-in kayaks have a raised lip that allows the skirt (or spray deck) to block water from entering the kayak.

Recreational Kayaks – Kayaking beginners are best to start off with a recreational kayak. They’re ideal for lakes, calm rivers, ponds, flat water and slow-moving creeks. Recreational kayaks are also great for fishing, hunting and photography as they’re very stable on the water.

types of kayaks

Touring Kayaks – Great for tracking (going straight) and comfortable for long trips, this is the model you want if you love camping and spending all day out on the water. Touring kayaks are ideal for lakes, wide rivers, some inlets, and calm oceans.

Sea Kayaks – Love the sea? This is the choice for paddling on the open ocean. Sea kayaks are normally very low, to avoid the wind. Usually longer than 15ft, sea kayaks have a relatively small cockpit. Some sea kayaks will have rudders or skegs to make up for waves or windy conditions.

Surf Kayaks – If you’d like to try a new type of surfing, this is for you. Normally these are small and easy to maneuver so you can play in the waves.

Tandem Kayaks – Do you love paddling with friends or with family members? This is the kayak for you. They’re generally safe and stable for all ages, making them ideal for recreational use. Tandem kayaks are great to use on ponds, lakes, or flat rivers.

Folding Kayaks – Most of these kayaks have a thin fabric over a light frame made from wood. A descendant of the original Inuit kayak, modern ones are made from wood, aluminum, and plastic, so they’re light enough to travel with.

Inflatable Kayaks – Inflatable kayaks are often quite a bit cheaper than other models, with the benefit of being super easy to carry and store away in small spaces.

Kayaks for Kids – If you have children, you can buy specific kayaks made for them. These models are usually very light, small and easy to paddle so that kids can learn kayaking techniques with ease.

Our Final Take

If you’re just entering the world of kayaking, recreational models are the most versatile, in terms of learning how to paddle, increasing your skills on the water and comfortability. Start out with one of these, and move on to other models when you’ve decided how you love to paddle best. Our recommendations for the best beginner kayaks include:

However, if you do want to launch straight into whitewater rafting, touring or more, just make sure you practice on calm water first and you’ll be ready to enjoy kayaking for a lifetime!