In this Guide
While the average recreational kayak limits you to gentle lake paddling and quiet rivers, sea and touring kayaks expand your horizons infinitely. You can take them on ambitious voyages, whether at sea or on a big, choppy lake.
In this guide, we’ll answer all your questions about sea and touring kayaks. What are the differences? Which should you buy? And most importantly, which craft are best?
Below, you’ll find in-depth reviews of all our favorite sea and touring kayaks. We’ve also included a comprehensive buying guide section.
Here’s a quick glance at some of our favorites!
Best on a Budget
- Our Rating: 4.7
- Popularity: Low
- Our Rating: 4.5
- Popularity: Low
- Our Rating: 4.7
- Popularity: Low
Are sea and touring kayaks the same thing?
Yes, and no! Traditionally, both terms have been used to refer to long, stable craft that are meant for long trips on large lakes and coastal waters. Touring kayaks are longer, sleeker vessels with more room and a faster keel than recreational models. Likewise, sea kayaks are traditionally considered to be touring kayaks with some extra features to help you at sea.
Most of us still use both terms to describe longer vessels of around 12-14 feet, with excellent tracking and sea-worthy features like rudders and secure hatches.
While some touring kayaks are only meant for flatwater paddling, the models we recommend are also fine for relatively calm sea conditions.
Today, though, many sit-on-top kayaks are also referred to as sea kayaks. They’re shorter and squatter than touring kayaks, but the biggest difference is the fact that you don’t sit in them. That makes them very stable, something that comes in handy in choppy surf!
We’ve sorted this buying guide into two main sections. In the first, you’ll find in-depth reviews of our favorite touring kayaks. These picks are all sea-worthy sit-in craft.
In the second section of the guide, you’ll find sit-on-top models which we’d simply call “sea” kayaks. They’re wider and shallower than traditional touring models, but have some extra stability.
Touring Kayak Reviews
If you’re an ardent adventurer, there’s no substitute for a great touring kayak. These vessels are your best bet for making long treks across lakes or down rivers, especially if you’re planning a multi-day expedition.
Touring kayaks offer streamlined, superior performance to the advanced paddler. They cut through waves and swells easily, and they maintain their balance in choppy conditions. Think of them as a streamlined version of the saloon car.
Touring kayaks have long, lean bodies which makes them a more efficient paddle for longer trips, and they’ve got plenty of storage space onboard for overnight and camping gear.
Our most budget-friendly recommendation in the touring category offers the smooth, steady performance of a touring kayak in the compact footprint of a recreational kayak.
At just 10 feet, this is a highly portable vessel that performs well above its size and price class. We’re especially impressed with the sheer number of features Riot have included for the price. This is a well-appointed, versatile winner! We highly recommend it to expert paddlers who need something that’s easy to transport without a trailer or a big roof rack.
It’s easy to travel with. It’s only 10 feet long, so it’s easy to fit in the bed of a pickup, the back of an SUV, or on a roof rack. Most touring kayaks are too long to fit easily in a truck bed. Longer boats also require a jumbo roof rack which which is impractical for smaller cars.
The Quest is almost guaranteed to fit your vehicle! We think it’s a great choice for people who like an adventure, but don’t have a trailer or a very large vehicle. It’s also light enough for stronger individuals to carry by themselves, at 64 pounds.
It’s well-appointed. The Riot Quest has two cupholders, and two rod holders. It’s ideally equipped for lounging on the lake, and it’s great for fishing from as well. The flush-mount rod holders are great for durability, since they can’t be broken off or damaged by accidental knocks.
It’s very steady. This one’s almost 3 feet across, which means it’s hard to wobble or knock off course. Previous buyers were extremely impressed with the ride of the Quest. They said it performed extremely well on lakes and smooth rivers, and even handled mild whitewater conditions with ease.
They especially complimented its tracking, which is extremely sure. Since it’s so stable, it makes a great learner boat, as well as a place to perch for fishing.
Even though it has the stability of a touring kayak, it’s still maneuverable. Users reported that the Quest was very easy to turn, and didn’t feel awkward or bulky.
The seat feels very comfortable, and suits the smooth ride of the Quest. It’s designed around Riot’s custom-fit seating system, which you can adjust to find your perfect fit. We love the feel of the seat. It’s compression-molded, which means that its padding won’t pack down or wear out over time.
The footbraces are also adjustable. We particularly like the quick-lock sliders on the footbraces, which are much quicker to use than some of the competition.
There’s a watertight storage space in the bulkhead. The dual-density hatch cover keeps everything securely sealed. Plus, it’s 15”, which makes it easy to fit all your food and other dry gear in the hatch. You also get some shock-cord storage across the top of the deck.
Even though it’s small, it has a very reasonable weight capacity. This one’s good for users up to 350 pounds!
The wide touring design does compromise the Quest’s speed. It’s not as fast as some sleeker models, and we don’t recommend it to anyone looking to zip along. With that said, we’ve found that it performs as well or better than other short touring models, and it steers much better than most.
Even though it’s the cheapest of our recommendations in the touring category, it’s still a sizeable purchase. This one will cost you $600+, which we realize may be inaccessible to some buyers. However, we’ve found that cheaper models had awkward performance and shoddy build quality.
Our favorite midsize touring option is the Riot Edge. It’s a bit longer and sleeker than the Quest, which allows it to be a bit faster and even more true on course. We think it offers a more rewarding paddle for people with more experience, who will be taking their vessel on longer jaunts. It’s our top recommendation to confident adventurers who can’t afford the top-shelf expert models.
This is a long, slender touring kayak with all the key features of a serious sea kayak. However, the hull is made from a hybrid molded plastic instead of fiberglass.
The result is a vessel that tracks as reliably as a more expensive fiberglass model, with the resilience and affordability of plastic options. We especially like the value factor on the Riot. It’s packed with pro-grade features that make it more than capable of handling any adventure.
It’s a full-length sea kayak. At 14.5 feet, it’s a solid yard longer than the Scrambler, and nearly 6 feet longer than the Frenzy. The result is a boat that manages to track even better, while adding some speed too! This one stays the course no matter what.
It has some extra sea-worthy features that help it perform even better than the Scrambler. The hull is shaped to provide a bit of chine and keel for keeping the Riot tracking accurately, but without impeding its speed or maneuverability.
The big upgrade on the Edge, aside from the hull design, is the addition of a rudder. It’s especially helpful for rougher conditions, but the Edge tracks so smoothly that you shouldn’t need it often! Still, in the circumstances when you need a little extra tracking support, the rudder is very easy to use, and gives a quick response from the keel.
We’re very impressed with the stability and smooth tracking of the Edge out on the water. In terms of speed, it can compete with even longer boats, and easily outstrips other 14.5 footers!
It cuts through waves and swells from power boats or winds with ease. Because of its excellent performance potential, we think this makes an excellent mid-price touring boat for advanced paddlers, and a first boat with lots of potential for learners.
There’s double the storage of the Quest. The Edge has watertight storage compartments in both the front and rear bulkheads. You also get the shock-cord storage space on top of the bulkheads. Since the Edge is a longer boat, you’ll have more surface area to work with as far as storage is concerned. All that extra storage space makes the Edge an excellent companion for longer trips, whether it’s an island picnic or overnight jaunts.
It’s actually lighter than the Quest! While the length means it’s still a bit unwieldy for one person to port around, the extra streamlining pays off in a lighter and more manageable boat.
The molded plastic is also hardier than fiberglass. While some more conservative sea kayakers might be reluctant to buy something that’s not made of fiberglass, we’d point out that the Riot performs so well that it feels like a fiberglass model. In our books, the fact that it’s much more resilient to outdoor storage and rougher treatment make it the better purchase.
It includes all the key features we love about the Quest, in a larger, sleeker package. There are dual cupholders, adjustable leg braces, a custom-fit seat system, reflective safety lines, and a drain plug.
For the price, we’re extremely pleased with the quality of all the Edge’s appointments. It’s easy to forgive the extra weight the features add, since they all feel so well-made. In particular, the hatch covers seem practically bulletproof!
As with the Quest, we’re overwhelmingly pleased with the quality and durability of this Riot vessel. We also read lots of reviews from buyers who had been using their boats regularly for years without issues. That’s no surprise, given our impressions!
It’s still a relatively inexpensive model. You’ll easily pay $1500+ for a comparable vessel made from the more traditional fiberglass. The Riot offers very comparable performance and features with a material that’s much easier to afford.
While the hull itself is lighter than the Quest’s, the added extras (hatch covers, seats, etc.) make this a pretty heavy boat overall. Plus, it’s an extra 4.5’ long. You definitely won’t be able to haul it around single-handedly. It’s a better choice for people who kayak with a partner, or have a trailer that allows them to cast off solo.
Some people weren’t thrilled with the seat, which has a somewhat higher backrest than others. Those buyers said that it was comfortable, but didn’t offer as much upper body range as they needed. If you’re on the shorter side, you may want to replace it with a seat that has a slightly lower back.
The front of the boat is rather low, and it doesn’t have a spray skirt. Mid-size to larger waves may occasionally end up splashing on laps. We’d recommended using a spray skirt, which would be sold separately.
The extra length also means that this one requires more strength to paddle than our other recommendations. This is for advanced boaters, and we wouldn’t recommend it to new paddlers.
While the Riot is much cheaper than fiberglass models, it’s certainly not a casual purchase. At close to the $1,000 mark, we’d only recommend it to serious kayakers.
Riot Kayaks’ flagship sea model, the Brittany, is a shoe-in for our top quality slot. It’s a long, sleek beast of a boat, with excellent speed and unparalleled tracking. We think it offers everything an advanced kayaker could ask for!
It’s stable, rides smooth, has plenty of storage space, and cuts right through wind, waves, and swells. If you’re a strong paddler with lots of ambition for day trips and overnighters, we don’t think you can find a better touring model than this!
It’s the longest and sleekest of our recommendations. At 16.5 feet, this is a full person longer than the Quest, and it has 2 feet on the Edge. Even at that length, it retains the sleekest profile, with a total width that’s the smallest of the three! That allows it to cut through the water like a dagger. It tracks precisely, and isn’t easily knocked off course by water conditions. As far as tracking is concerned, the Brittany is by far the best performer here.
It’s also the fastest traveler. Previous buyers said it was extremely easy to power along. That’s thanks to the narrow width. Plus, the low prow makes it more efficient than other touring options on a windy day or heading into current! Previous buyers said that the Brittany was a much more efficient paddle than other comparable kayaks they’d used.
Previous buyers said that the Brittany was extremely stable, just like the cheaper Riot, and cut through rough, mixed, or choppy conditions better than any kayak they had used before. That’s where that sea kayak pedigree really comes into play!
This might be a touring model, but it’s designed with the best aspects of the British sea kayak tradition in mind. You’ll see that in the shaping of the hull, which looks more like a ship keel than a flat-water kayak hull.
It comes with all the features of the cheaper Riot models, and then some. It has the same custom-fit seating system, dry storage locks, and shock-cord storage above deck.
The Brittany also adds a third dry storage compartment. It’s a “day” compartment, so it’s where you’d keep provisions and necessaries for while you’re on the water. That leaves your main compartments free for your camping and overnight gear, or for a bigger picnic once you’ve landed.
Like the Edge, the Brittany has a full rudder system onboard. It’s easy to use, thanks to the cockpit handles. While you can’t expect a long boat like this to turn quite on a dime, it’s more responsive than other long boats we’ve seen.
While it’s a relatively expensive boat, it’s one of the cheapest skeg and rudder models on the market. We think it performs far above its price class, in terms of both maneuverability and stability.
It’s just as durable and reliable as the other Riot models.
It’s very large, and quite heavy. This isn’t a boat most people can port singlehandedly. You’ll want to make sure you’ve got help to load it onto and off of a vehicle or trailer.
It’s not a good choice for beginners. While the Brittany is a responsive, agile craft, it requires a certain amount of strength to power. That’s simply because it’s so long. It also doesn’t respond well to wobbles and jerks which come with inexperience. The long, lean body is better suited to smooth, expert strokes. Beginners will be better off with a wider boat, which is stable enough to accommodate their learning curve.
It’s very expensive. The Brittany costs well over $1,000. We recommend it only to people who kayak regularly.
Some users weren’t thrilled with the placement of the day hatch. Many other boats place it off-center, so that it can fit closer to the cockpit. The Brittany’s day hatch is centrally-located, and it’s a bit further behind the seat. Some smaller users said it could be difficult to reach without having an unsteady purchase on items in the compartment.
Which is the Best Touring Kayak for You?
The Quest is the clear choice for more casual boaters. It’s the easiest to tote around, since it can fit in the back of a truck or SUV. It’s also simple for one person to manage without help.
We especially recommend the Quest for kayakers on a budget, since it’s one of the least expensive touring options that offers great performance. Fishermen will also appreciate the stable, sturdy hull, which is already outfitted for rods. However, the wider hull makes this one a bit slower overall, and more experienced paddlers might not like the limited storage space for long ventures.
The Edge is our top choice for the average kayaker who’s pretty skilled but can’t pony up $1500 for a high end model. At 14.5’, it has a nice midrange length with an excellent balance of stability and speed.
It’s a good all-around kayak, and it’s great for everything from day trips to overnight adventures. Fast enough to reward skilled boaters, while stable enough to help learners grow, the Edge offers great midrange value for the money. It’s the best choice for people who are fairly confident on the water, and have aspirations to become an expert.
The Brittany is ideally-suited to expert kayakers, and for longer expeditions. While it’s a bit too long and lean for newcomers to handle easily, it offers an extremely rewarding experience for experts. This is one of the fastest kayaks on the market, period!
It also has lots of deluxe features which make it well worth the high price. You get lots of storage, and more watertight compartments than either of our other recommendations. This is a high-end kayak which feels high-quality in every regard. We strongly recommend it to regular kayakers who want something that offers unlimited potential for adventure!
Sea Kayak Reviews
- Ocean Kayak Frenzy
- Ocean Kayak Scrambler
- Perception Pescador
In terms of sheer adventure, few activities can compete with kayaking at sea. Ocean kayaking is exciting, unpredictable, and an amazing escape from the stresses of day-to-day life.
However, to keep you safe as you paddle, you’ll need a proper sea kayak that can handle the variable and unpredictable conditions of the ocean. Sea kayaks have to be extra well-balanced, with a design that manages to be both nimble and steady. You’ll need a boat that tracks well, and stays stable in choppy conditions without compromising maneuverability.
Compared to the touring models above, the vessels we’ve put in the “sea” kayak category are shorter, stabler, and more responsive. These are sit-in models. They won’t go as fast as the touring boats above, but they’re much less likely to roll over. They’re a better choice for beginners at sea, as well as for anyone who likes to fish out on the open water.
The Frenzy is one of the best sea kayaks out there, period, and it also happens to be one of the most affordable! It’s a compact, lightweight design that’s ideal for beginners, as well as experienced paddlers on a tighter budget.
We’re particularly impressed by how well this model handles for users of all shapes and sizes. It tracks easily, moves quickly, and is nearly impossible to tip.
The sit-on-top design keeps you stable and above the water. Previous buyers said they had no issues with wobbliness, and stayed completely dry in smooth conditions.
It’s sturdy. The Frenzy is rated to hold people up to 325 pounds!
It’s super compact. The Frenzy weighs only 43 pounds, so it’s easy for one person to load into a vehicle and carry to the water. At 9 feet in length, it’ll fit into most trucks or SUV’s, as well as rooftop racks. To make it easy to port, there are molded-handles built into the sides of the Frenzy.
It also comes with standard toggle-style handles at each end. We think the Frenzy is ideal for people who don’t have a trailer, or large rack for their car. It’s by far the most portable of our choices.
We like the compact design because it’s easy for just about anyone to paddle. Kids can maneuver the Frenzy with ease, but it’s rugged enough for adults as well. Given that this is a compact model, we’re particularly impressed by the amount of legroom there is at the front end. Even taller users over 6 feet said they found it comfortable!
We love the special overlapping footwells, since they provide you with lots of options without having to make any adjustments.
Overall, previous buyers agreed that it had excellent stability without compromising its responsiveness. They said they’d taken it in surf, across bays, and even fished from it! Of course, this isn’t really a fishing kayak, but the fact that several people said they’d boated with dogs or fished from the Frenzy is a testament to its very impressive stability. Overall, they were impressed by the way this one tracks, saying that it competed easily with much longer models.
It comes with an excellent seat. The back and bottom of the seat are cushioned and padded for all-day comfort on the water. You can also adjust your seat in four different places, to find the perfect alignment for your body.
Even though it’s compact, it has plenty of storage space. There are wells at both the stern and bow end of the Frenzy, with bungees over the top to keep your gear and supplies secure.
One of our favorite features is the skid plate at the rear of the vessel. You can replace the plate as it wears out, protecting your hull at a low cost.
Previous buyers raved about how durable this model is. They said that even after a couple years of use, they couldn’t see much of any wear on the hull.
Most of all, this is a very affordable model. At less than $500, it’s one of the most accessible options out there, let alone for paddling on the sea. We’re extremely impressed by the stability, comfort, and efficiency of this design. Given the price, it’s a steal. There’s a reason you’ll see the Frenzy on nearly every best-of roundup!
Scupper plugs are sold separately. That’s not a huge inconvenience, but some buyers wished it had been listed in the product description.
Some wider users warned that the seat is a bit compact for plus sized people. It’s 18” across. If you’re on the larger end of the spectrum, or just like a bit more wiggle room in the seat, you might consider purchasing a seat separately. However, tall people have plenty of legroom.
The Scrambler is our favorite mid-range choice. It’s a bit longer than the Frenzy, which gives it improved tracking and makes it a better choice for taller, more experienced paddlers.
While it takes a bit more strength to paddle, it performs even more adeptly in all conditions. We also love the extra storage room, as well as the dry compartment. The Scrambler is an ideal boat for people with a bit more miles under the belt, who want a dependable, versatile vessel that won’t break the bank.
It has a lot of the same great features that we love on the Frenzy. The Scrambler features the same molded seat wells, as well as a similar hull design. It has storage wells at stern and bow, handles at the sides and on the ends, and bungees over the storage compartments.
It’s a bit longer than the Frenzy. At 11.5 feet long, the Scrambler tracks even better, and it behaves as more of a touring kayak in terms of performance. This is a steadier, straighter vessel to paddle. Previous buyers over 6 feet said they had ample room for their legs, and could even stretch them out completely.
The other benefit of the larger size is a lot more cargo room. Both storage wells are expanded, and you also get a watertight storage lock under the seat for things that need to stay dry. Previous buyers went padding with dogs and picnics with ease.
The Scrambler is actually the original Ocean Kayak design, and it’s remained an all-around favorite on the market ever since its introduction 20 years ago. It’s recommended for lakes, rivers, and fishing, as well as for surf and swell conditions at sea.
Previous buyers raved about the versatility of this model, saying it handled absolutely anything they could throw at it. They especially liked how it handled waves and swells. The Scrambler holds as steady a course as longer, heavier boats that are harder to maneuver.
While the extra two feet on the hull make this one a bit awkward to fit in vehicles, it’s still just as light as the Frenzy. At 47 pounds, this one’s easy to lift onto your car by yourself, and it’s just as easy to carry to the water. The light weight also helps the Scrambler’s speed and maneuverability out on the ocean.
It’s made here in the USA. The hull is made from the same durable plastic material as the Frenzy. Scrambler buyers said they could definitely feel the difference in quality between this and the cheap, $200 models. The hull is thick, rigid, and rugged.
This is one of the most reliable boats on the market. Previous buyers said that even after years of outdoor storage and exposure to the elements, the hulls on their Scramblers were holding up just fine. The Scrambler’s resilience to scratches, scrapes, and UV damage is one of its best selling points.
In terms of value, this one’s even more impressive than the Frenzy. It’s slightly more expensive, to the tune of ~$100, but given the extra performance improvements, it’s still one of the best values on the market. Plus, it’s a small investment that will last just as long as the more expensive options.
Some people didn’t find the seat comfortable. They recommended replacing it with something more cushioned, or adding some additional padding.
A few buyers had issues with their dry hatches leaking. They recommended keeping phones or other sensitive possessions in a Ziploc bag, just in case.
Since it’s larger, it’s not quite as nimble as the Frenzy. This model might take a bit more effort to paddle and get up to speed. Some buyers found it a bit slower than they wanted. However, your speed will depend on your strength and the conditions on the water. Most experienced and confident kayakers said the Scrambler was an easy, adept performer.
3. Perception Pescador
If you’ve spent any amount of time poking around this site, you’ll probably have noticed that the Perception Pescador makes an appearance in several of our buying guides. We’re quite enamored with this midsize craft! It’s one of the best all-purpose boats on the market.
It’s also an excellent choice to take to sea! The Pescador costs about the same as the Ocean Kayaks Scrambler, and is of comparable quality. The big difference is that this one’s designed specifically for fishing. We recommend it to any anglers who want something to take on the waves.
At 12 feet in length, it’s a nice midsize craft for fishing. It’s fast enough to get where you want to go, without loosing top much stability.. We also like the 12′ profile because it’s reasonable for one strong person to handle.
The build quality is excellent. The hull material is extremely resilient, and there aren’t any flaws anywhere. Perception has quite impressive quality control! All the fittings and amenities are well-made, too. There are more expensive fishing kayaks, but they don’t offer measurably better build quality.
It’s relatively inexpensive. This is a rebranded Wilderness Tarpon (it uses exactly the same mold), but the lack of brand recognition for Perception makes for a nice discount.
It’s extremely stable, tracks well and handles in all conditions. We’re recommending it primarily for coastal fishing. It excels for trips between/to islands, as well as for kicking around close to shore. You can also take this inland for lake and river adventures without sacrificing speed. It’s one of the faster sit-on-top’s available, especially for fishing.
It’s comfortable. The Pescador has a comfy seat we wouldn’t bother replacing, as well as adjustable footrests that suit any leg length.
There’s plenty of room for a cooler and bait, too! You get three hatches to work with, and the average cooler fits neatly behind the seat.
It’s actually designed with fishing in mind, unlike so many vessels which just have a fish decal but no discernable design changes. You get two flexible mounting options for poles, and also a paddle rest for when your angling.
You can fit a rudder down the road, if that’s something you’re interested in.
It’s a bit heavy for the average person to lift by themselves. An athletic persons should be able to handle it solo, but a lot of folks are going to want a helper.
Which Sea Kayak is Perfect for You?
The Ocean Kayak Frenzy is the clear choice for beginners, as it’s the easiest of the three to paddle. The short length and light weight make it a shoo-in for the most maneuverable slot.
It’s also the most affordable choice here, by at least $100. We think the Frenzy performs far above its price class. On the downside, the compact design doesn’t track quite as well as our larger recommendations. It’s also not the best choice for very tall people.
We recommend the Frenzy to beginners, and people on a very tight budget. It’s also the best choice for people who want a model that will fit in a vehicle, rather than on a roof rack or trailer.
The Ocean Kayak Scrambler offers a boost in both performance and storage space over the Frenzy, for only a marginal price increase. It’s our top choice for more experienced kayakers who are on a budget.
The Scrambler tracks more accurately, and it’s even more stable than the Frenzy in choppy conditions. That makes it a more versatile performer.
Previous buyers loved it in all waters, in all conditions, and even with fishing equipment or animal companions onboard. If you’re a beginner, the Scrambler might leave you more room to grow than the Frenzy. However, it’s not quite as packable, and the longer length means it requires more effort to paddle.
The Pescador is comparable to the Ocean Kayak Scrambler in terms of quality. The main difference is that it’s designed specifically for bringing home the day’s catch. So, if you’re into fishing at sea, go for this one!
Best Tandem Sea Kayak
All of the models we’ve looked at so far are single-user models. We also made sure to do some research into the best tandem sea kayaks, to find something that would be good for two adventurers.
Our current favorite on the market comes from Ocean Kayak. It’s a similar design to the Scrambler and the Frenzy, and it’s nearly as affordable. We like the Malibu because it works equally well as a single or tandem boat!
What makes the Malibu so great? To start, it uses the same rugged, reliable hull as the other Ocean Kayaks we’ve looked at in this guide. It’s very resilient to scratches, impact, and UV light damage. It also has the same carry-handles, skid plate, and comfortable raised seats.
We like this design because it’s one of the more compact tandems on the market at the moment. At 12 feet, it’s only slightly longer than the Scrambler. That makes it more maneuverable and versatile than longer models. Plus, the Malibu makes full use of its length. There are three seats, each with Ocean Kayak’s molded footwells. It’s designed to fit a child or a pet along with the two paddlers.
Overall, previous buyers raved about the versatility of the Malibu. They said it performed wonderfully on lakes, rivers, and at sea, and was completely stable in all conditions without feeling bulky. It’s lighter, faster, and easier to travel with than other sea tandems.
If you’re going to be going with a partner, the Malibu is an excellent choice!
How to Make Sure You Buy the Right Sea/Touring Kayak
Choose a format
As we’ve shown in this guide, there can be some differences between sea and touring kayaks, despite the fact that many people treat them as synonymous. The key thing to do up front is decide whether you want a long, sit-in model (touring), or a short, sit-on-top model (sea). Again, anything in this guide will serve you well at sea. It’s a question of whether you prefer stability or speed.
Consider your budget:
Sea/touring kayaks can cost between $250 and $2,000. While the ~$250 models might be tempting, we’d recommend spending at least $400-$500 on your new boat. The models below that price point have inferior hulls which damage easily. Plus, their poor designs mean that those boats won’t perform nearly as well at sea. Do yourself a favor and spend a little extra money at front for a more reliable vessel.
As a general rule, the larger the model, the larger the price tag. Larger models have better tracking performance, improved stability, and expanded storage space. You’ll also pay more for higher-grade plastics in the hull. Other extra features, like watertight storage compartments or rudders, will also cost you more up front.
Touring kayaks that you sit inside are more expensive than sea-oriented sit-on-tops. The longer the boat, the more you’ll pay, as a general rule. You’ll also pay extra for deluxe features like customizable seats, watertight storage compartments, and rudder systems.
We suggest that new kayakers or occasional boaters buy something closer to the $500 mark. If you’re an experienced or expert kayaker, you’ll probably have a more rewarding experience with a $750+ model. If you can afford something closer to $1500, you’ll end up with a premium touring kayak you can paddle for years to come.
Think about your skill level:
Shorter boats, around 10 feet in length, will be the easiest for newcomers to power and maneuver. We’d recommend that people who haven’t kayaked more than once or twice start with something on the shorter end of the spectrum, or check out our beginner pick best kayak reviews. Shorter boats are easier to power, and they often maneuver more nimbly than bigger boats.
If you have some experience already, or are athletic and can paddle with more strength than most beginners, you may want to buy something in the 10-12 foot range. Those craft will give you more stability and straighter tracking in rougher conditions, and give you more room to grow.
For advanced and expert kayakers, we’d recommend a mid to full-size model, between 11 and 15 feet. The longer it is, the more effort it will take to power and steer. However, those long kayaks offer smoother performance and more reliable tracking than the shorter options. They’re the best choice for longer adventures and more variable conditions further from shore.
Expert kayakers will also be well-served by a model with a rudder. Rudders help you keep your steering constant when the water starts to get really rough.
Think about the types of adventures you want to go on:
Each adventure has its own requirements as far as your boat and its amenities are concerned. You’ll want to make sure you’ve the right balance of size and convenience for your average adventure.
If you’re mostly planning on day trips or afternoon jaunts, you’ll want something light and manageable that’s easy to pack up and put away. If you’re planning an overnight trip, you’ll want to make sure you have the storage space to keep everything you need onboard. If you want to fish, make sure you get something with a wide, stable hull, and rod-ports.
Know how you’ll be transporting your boat:
It’s easy to get carried away when you’re shopping for a new boat. You want the biggest, fastest, coolest one you can find, and that’s perfectly alright!However, you want to cool your jets until you know how you’re going to be getting your new kayak to and from the water.
If you’re carrying it on the top of your car, you should probably keep your length within 14 feet. If you have a trailer, or a larger vehicle like a truck or SUV, you’ll be alright with a 16-foot model. If you’re towing boats on a trailer, the sky’s the limit!
In addition to your vehicle, you should think about whether you’ll be kayaking solo or with someone else. If you’re going it alone, you probably want to stay under 12-14 feet. Most of us can’t handle longer boats singlehandedly, and even a 12-foot kayak can be cumbersome without a partner.
Know your own strength level, and don’t be too optimistic about how large a boat you can haul. Remember-you’ll have to lift it after your adventure, when you’re not as spry as when you left!
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