Home » 12 Different Types of Kayaks and What They’re Good For

12 Different Types of Kayaks and What They’re Good For

Last Updated on September 19, 2022 by Donnell Henderson

When we think of kayaking, we often picture ourselves in a small, one-person craft gliding along the water’s surface. But what types of kayaks are there? There are several different kinds of kayaks to choose from.

Kayaking is an activity that involves paddling and steering yourself across the water in a small boat known as a kayak. This type of boat design is unique because it places you at eye level with the water rather than above it or below it. There are several different types of kayaks, which were created for different purposes.

What is a Kayak?

The kayak is a small, narrow boat with one or more cockpits designed to be propelled by a double-bladed paddle. It is the most widely used type of paddling craft. In British English and in European languages, a kayak is also called a canoe.

A kayak differs from a canoe in that it is shorter, wider, and sturdier and features a covered deck (cockpit), which protects the user from the elements. The Inuit and other Arctic peoples developed the kayak from a small boat made from animal skins stretched over a wooden frame; these skins were sewn together to form a watertight seal.

Inuit hunters in the Arctic Archipelago used them for hunting on open stretches of sea ice and for transporting goods such as fish, meat, and firewood ashore. Europeans first used the kayak in Greenland during the late 18th century; it soon became popular in Europe and North America during the mid-19th century. Kayaks are used today mainly for recreation or sport; nevertheless, they are also still relevant to their original Inuit culture, which continues to survive.

A wide variety of kayaks are recognizable today. To help you decide which type is best for you, we’ve put together this guide about the different types of kayaks available for purchase.

types of kayaks

Why Kayaks?

When kayaking, people generally have one of three goals:

  • to paddle around a lake
  • to explore a river or coastline
  • to go on long expeditions

If you’re going to be doing any of these things, you need to know the difference between the two most popular types of kayaks, recreational models and touring ones. Recreational kayaks are easier to maneuver and are made for calm waters. Touring kayaks are more stable and durable and built for rougher waters. Before you commit to buying a kayak, it’s important that you know which one is right for your purposes.

How to Classify Kayaks

Kayaks are classified in a variety of ways. The most common is the shape of the hull. The three basic kayak shapes are:


  • Closed – Symmetrical shape that resembles a canoe
  • Inline – Symmetrical shape that resembles a surfboard
  • Open – Shaped like an upside-down ‘V’. These kayaks are very stable but have less initial stability


Kayaks are also classified by their primary construction material. Kayaks can be made from:

  • Fiberglass and epoxy (most common)
  • Wood (rare but fun)
  • Kevlar and carbon fiber (very expensive)

Seat Placement

  • Sit-0n
  • Sit-In


These kayaks are designed to make it more difficult for a person to tip the boat over. They’re made with thicker sides and a wider beam than other kayaks, making them very stable and slower than other types. They’re best for beginners or anyone who wants to get out on the water without worrying about turning over at every little wave or shift in wind direction.


  • Paddles
  • Motor

Kayaks are self-propelled, meaning that they don’t need a motor to move through the water. They can be propelled by paddles (obviously) or an electric motor, though they aren’t allowed on all lakes and rivers due to local regulations. Most paddle-powered boats are faster than those that rely on engines and have better maneuverability, so they’re suitable for fishing, exploring coastlines, or tracking down.

Kayak Types According so Seat Placement

There are many different types of kayaks, and they’re built for different types of paddlers. The easiest way to figure out which type is right for you is to figure out what kind of kayaking you want to be doing. Are you interested in fishing? Exploring the shoreline? Catching a wave? Here’s a quick rundown of some common kayak styles and their intended uses.

1. Sit-On Kayaks

First, there are sit-on-top kayaks. These kayaks have a seat that sits on top of the boat, and you sit on it as you would on a chair. The advantage of these kayaks is that they allow easy access to the water. You just jump in and then get back out. This is good if you want to fish or go on a quick tour of a lake or beach.

Fishing kayaks are designed for anglers who want to fish in freshwater or saltwater. Mostly it’s a sit-on-top kayak, which means that you sit on top of the fishing kayak rather than inside it. Some fishing kayaks have pedals that you can use to move the kayak forward while you’re fishing. This kayak gives you the freedom to move around and fish without worrying about paddling or rowing. They’re known as pedal kayaks.

Sit-on-top kayaks are best for beginners. These kayaks are very easy to get in and out of, and since they sit on top of the water, you won’t get wet. If you flip it over, climbing back into one of these kayaks is also easier. You can also use a paddle to help you balance, making you feel more comfortable while paddling around.

2. Sit-In Kayaks

There are also sit-in kayaks, which require some getting in and out of the boat. You can still go fishing or take a tour with this type of boat because the entrance is usually wide enough that you can sit down without hitting your head when you get out, but getting in and out takes more effort than with sit-on-top boats.

Sit-in kayaks have a cockpit that is enclosed by a solid bottom. These kayaks are best for experienced paddlers who want to take a more active role in their adventure. They are rather difficult to get in and out of but can hold your belongings inside with you. In addition, they allow you to sit lower in the water, improving your speed and stability.

Sit-in and sit-on are the most common types of kayak, but there are others, including inflatable ones that can be taken anywhere because they can be packed into a suitcase and then inflated once you’re ready to use them; tandem boats that have two-seat side by side; and even underwater scooters for those who want to get around quickly and easily.

Types of Recreational Kayaks

The recreational kayak is the most popular style of kayak. Its long, narrow, and pointed shape means that it’s fast and easy to paddle. Recreational kayaks are used for touring (a slow, relaxed paddling trip) or racing (a quick sprint against other racers).

Recreational kayaks range in length from 7 to 12 feet. While longer boats are faster, they are also harder to turn because of their size and weight. The most common length is 8 feet, which is a good compromise between speed and maneuverability.

Recreational kayaks are typically used in lakes and slow-moving rivers. They are designed for calm conditions and can’t handle large waves or rapids. Recreational kayaks are shorter than touring kayaks and are usually less expensive as well.

Some recreational kayak models can be set up as fishing kayaks by adding a small seat behind the cockpit. Recreational kayaks are good for beginners because they’re stable and easy to use. A recreational kayak can also double as a canoe: you can paddle a recreational kayak sitting down, or kneeling with your legs extended behind you.

Recreational kayaks are the most popular and widely used type of kayak. This is because they’re the easiest to use, and they’re designed to allow you to take your leisurely time enjoying the water. Recreational kayaks are also a good choice for beginners who haven’t learned how to paddle yet, as they have a wider hull that keeps you steady even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Recreational kayaks are also great for fishing and photography, as they allow you to sit still while paddling around, making it easier to spot fish or snap pictures of your surroundings.

There are many different types of recreational kayaks, and each one is designed for a specific kind of use as well as a specific kind of environment. Here are some examples:

3. Touring Kayaks

These recreational kayaks have more features that make them easier for beginner paddlers to use. Usually, these have adjustable seats and foot braces, making them more comfortable and easier to keep your balance in.

4. Sea Kayaks

These kayaks have plenty of storage space and often include hatches that can be opened while the boat is still in the water. This means you can store things like dry clothes or food inside the boat itself, rather than having to bring along a separate bag when you go out on the water.

Types of Tandem Kayaks

Tandem kayaks are popular with families because they allow parents and children to paddle together. One child sits in the front, and the other sits in the back. The paddler in the back should be as tall as his or her feet can reach (so he or she can rest them on top of the seat).

The paddler in the front should be at least 5 years old, no more than 15 pounds heavier than the person behind him, and able to lift her paddle high enough for it not to strike her partner’s head when she brings it down. It is best if both partners can swim because there is a good chance that you will fall out of a tandem kayak.

Tandem kayaks differ most visibly from other kayaks in the way they are set up. Using a rudder system, two paddlers sit back-to-back, side-by-side, facing opposite directions. The paddler in the rear is able to steer the boat using a foot pedal located at the back of the boat. With a little practice, Tandem Kayaks can offer an easy means of transportation as well as a relaxing way to enjoy time on the water with friends and family.

5. Sit-On-Top (SOT) Tandems 

These can be the most fun because you can take a friend or family member out with you and share the experience. Sit-on-tops have great stability, making them good for inexperienced paddlers. The biggest downside is that they’re slower than other kayaks. They also tend to be more expensive than other tandem models.

6. Open Tandems 

Open tandems, or touring kayaks, are designed to be more stable than sit-on-top kayaks and have a covered area in the front where the second paddler sits. Closed tandems have flush decks, so there’s nothing to get in the way while paddling. They’re also faster and better at rough water conditions than sit-on-tops. The biggest downside is that they cost more and are heavier than sit-on-tops.

7. Open/Closed Tandems 

In this version, one seat is open for a third person, and the second seat is closed for protection from the weather.

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater kayaks are designed to perform well in whitewater and class II rapids. These kayaks are best used on rivers with a lot of moving water and medium-sized rocks.

When choosing a whitewater kayak, the most important thing to consider is what kind of rapids you will be paddling on. Kayaks designed for high-volume rivers are the most popular and versatile. They have rounded hulls for stability, large cockpits for easy entry, and high sides that help keep water out when you flip over. A good way to find out if a kayak will fit your needs is by talking to people who paddle similar rivers: ask them about the type of paddle they use, the number of paddlers in their group, and what kind of trips they take.

Whitewater kayaks are generally the fastest way to get across a river or draw from a reservoir, but they do require more skill than other types because of how much water they can hold and how easily they can be flipped over. A recreational kayak would be better if you are just learning how to paddle or don’t have access to rivers with rapids (like in urban areas).

Whitewater kayaks are designed to handle extreme water conditions and are available in various lengths, sizes, and styles. Depending on the shape and function of the kayak, it can be paddled in still water or used for whitewater activities.

Whitewater kayaks are specialized boats built for river running and perform best in moving water. Most flatwater kayaks are also somewhat suitable for whitewater kayaking, but these are the true experts of moving water. Whitewater kayaking is a sport with its own challenges and rewards, but it takes a special paddler to master this kind of craft. Whitewater kayakers usually have a great degree of physical strength because their kayaks are more difficult to handle than their flatwater counterparts, and they usually have superior knowledge about how to maneuver them effectively.

Below is a list of popular types of whitewater kayaks, along with their recreational uses and intended user.

8. Creek Boats

These kayaks are best suited for small creeks and calm rivers. They’re relatively short and wide, making them easy to turn in tight spaces. They feature a high degree of stability to accommodate for the fact that creek boaters often end up stuck on rocks or logs at some point during their trip.

9. Play Boats

Play boats are ideal for easily moving through rapids. They have a very low center of gravity, so the paddler is protected from flipping if they get into trouble. They’re long, narrow, and highly maneuverable. Play boats are designed for whitewater conditions only; they won’t hold their own in flat water conditions.

10. Downriver Boats

These kayaks are designed to move fast through large stretches of water without much difficulty. Downriver boats have a high degree of speed and maneuverability.

11. Folding Kayaks

Folding kayaks are a new type of kayak created to be easy to transport and store. They have been gaining popularity for several years, but the concept of folding kayaks is still new enough that there is a lot of confusion about what they are and how they work.

A folding kayak usually consists of two parts, a rigid frame and a stiff hull, with the “rigid frame” being the part that folds. Some models also have a third pan called an inflatable keel, which keeps the hull from leaning to one side when in use. All folding kayaks must be broken down for transport and storage, so they do not meet the definition of inflatable boats despite their similarities in shape and design.

The first folding kayaks were invented during World War II by British engineers attempting to design small boats that could be easily transported on submarines. The original designs were intended to be filled with air or water to provide water stability. After the war ended, rumours began to spread about how effectively these boats aided soldiers in escaping attacks during combat. Other people were inspired by this information and tried their own hand at creating a model that could fold up into an easier-to-transport piece of luggage.

If you’ve ever seen a folding kayak up close, you know that they’re often quite long and can seem like challenging things to fold and unfold. However, once you learn the basics about how to use a folding kayak, it’s not so bad!

Folding kayaks are becoming increasingly popular because of their portability. They are often cheaper than other types of kayaks and provide the same experience and uses.

The most important thing to remember is that all folding kayaks have different instructions for use. Some need to be pumped up with a pump or a manual foot pump, while others inflate as you’re using them!

12. Inflatable Whitewater Kayaks

The inflatable kayak is a popular boat for many reasons. It is durable, easy to use, and perfect for anyone looking to get into kayaking but doesn’t have the money to spend on a more traditional kayak. They are affordable and durable enough to be used by all kinds of kayakers.

The inflatable kayak is great for beginners because they are very easy to use. You don’t need much skill to get it going because it’s just like using a raft. All you really have to do is paddle around and enjoy your surroundings. This can make it much easier for you to relax in the water without worrying about any outside distractions. However, this also makes them a bad choice for more advanced users, as they tend to be quite boring.

So why exactly are these kayaks so popular with beginners? Well, there are a few reasons for that! Since these boats are made out of flexible materials like rubber or PVC, they make it much easier for beginners to handle them because they aren’t as rigid as other boats. This means you won’t have to be as strong or coordinated to steer. It also makes them very safe because they are less likely to tip over than other

Inflatable kayaks are the best choice for people who enjoy water sports but don’t have the space or budget to buy a large kayak. Inflatable kayaks can be packed in a backpack and then easily inflated to use, so you can take them anywhere. Keep reading to learn more about inflatable kayaks and how to use them.

Wrapping up

Different kayaks are suitable for different purposes and terrains, so it’s important to consider what you’ll do with your kayak before choosing one. If you plan on taking out a sea kayak in the ocean frequently, you’ll want to look into some models that are made to handle the rigors of more turbulent waters. A recreational kayak is perfect for you if you only plan to use your kayak near the shore.

And if you’re looking for a kayak that can serve as a combination of both, a touring kayak will fit the bill. It is important to note that not all models of kayaks are meant for all terrains. For instance, sea kayaks or whitewater kayaks may not be appropriate for lakes or slow-moving rivers, so be sure to find out if your model is suitable for an area that interests you before buying it.

Scroll to Top