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Kayaks: Choosing Between the Vast Types Available

A quick search for kayaks will give you quite a lot of options. It is quite honestly, informational overload for someone who has just taken an interest in kayaking.

The sheer number of options can be daunting. But, don’t worry. This guide will be all about what are the different types of kayaks.

There are tons of different kayaks. Some are differentiated by the structure, materials, and also how many seats they have. Other types are based on design. However, the type of activity is the most important.

Just buying a kayak and calling it a day is not the best way to go on about it. When checking out kayaks and looking to buy one, you need to know which type is right for what kind of kayaking.

what are the different types of kayaks

All Types of Kayaks You Can Buy

Kayaks come in different shapes and sizes and also construction. Some are designed in a very specific way. Some costs more than others and others are tailored-made to your exact specification. 

But if you want to buy a kayak today, then knowing all the types available will help you make the right decision.

To make this easier to understand, I will break them into different categories and also talk about the types of kayaks and their uses.

So, let’s get started.

Kayak Types By Design

The first category is design. Everyone knows what a typical kayak looks like. But only a couple of minutes of digging, and you will see that there is much to kayak design than it seems.

When it comes to design, you have two options. Sit-in kayaks and sit-on-top kayaks

Sit-in Kayaks

The name of this one is quite self-explanatory. Sit-in kayaks have the paddler sit inside a sort of cockpit. It is a more traditional design and is seen more commonly. With this type of kayak, the paddler is protected from splashes.

Since you will be sitting pretty securely inside, you do not need to worry about the elements either. One great thing about this type of kayak is its control and maneuverability. 

Sit-in kayaks, or SIK for short, are narrower. So, you get much more control thanks to this. SIKs come in different subcategories as well. You can choose from recreational, touring, sea, racing, and even tandem kayaks in the sit-in design.

The downside of a SIK is that getting into and out of them can be a bit tricky. But this is not much of a problem unless you fall off.

Sit-on-top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are not made to keep the paddler safe from water splashes. They are designed in a way where the paddler will sit directly on top. The seat itself is usually molded into a seating area.

Since you will be sitting on top of the kayak, it gives you much more freedom to move around. This is great for when you need to grab something. Like, say you are fishing and want to grab the fishing rod.

Sit-on-top kayaks are also pretty stellar for someone who wants to go kayaking for recreation. They are good to take a bit further from the shore. They are pretty versatile as well.

Kayak Types By Activity

Speaking of recreation and fishing, the next category is activities. What makes kayaks so fun and exciting is all the activities you can do with them. 

You have fishing kayaks, playboats, freestyle boats, Whitewater kayaks, and touring kayaks. Choosing a kayak based on what activity you want to do with them is a pretty good starting point.

Fishing Kayaks

These fall under the recreational kayak subcategory. Fishing kayaks are also called angler kayaks. And you can probably tell what they are used for.

Fishing kayaks are mostly sit-on-top designs. So, when you are fishing and catch a monster, you can handle it with relative ease. These are also pretty wide which helps with stability. So, you will not fall off easily.

You can also fit quite a bit of gadgets. These features are helpful when it comes to fishing. It allows you to attach rod holders, gear tracks, storage, and more.

Basically, anything a seasoned fisherman would need, you can attach.

Recreational Kayaks

I put recreational kayaks as a standalone subcategory of kayaks. These are made for fun and relaxation. Recreational kayaks are by far some of the most comfortable kayaks you can buy.

One thing that is missing from recreational kayaks is extra bells and whistles.

You will not find the ability to attach fancy fishing equipment to them. They do come in both sit-on-top and sit-in styles though. They are stable and pretty comfortable. Keep in mind that these kayaks are best for slow rivers, ponds, and lakes.

Touring Kayaks

Sleek-looking kayaks with a long hull. These are the defining features of a touring kayak. If you want a kayak that is great for long-distance travel, a touring kayak is the one to get. They are sit-in designs and narrower than other kayaks.

Touring kayaks are made for speed as well. That is one of the things that makes them fun to ride on long journeys. Touring kayaks are pretty well-featured in the storage department as well.

You will see most have hatches for storage. These kayaks are pretty long compared to other kayaks as well.

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater kayaks are specialized kayaks. They are designed to effectively run river rapids. Since you need peak control when running rapids, whitewater kayaks are made for excellent maneuverability.

The sitting arrangement is a bit tight. This is to make things much more efficient. You can also seal the cockpit off with neoprene spray skirts. 

Freestyle boats

Want some flair when kayaking? Freestyle boats are perfect for that. These types of kayaks are the shortest and can be used to do some pretty sweet tricks.

If you are wondering what the different types of kayaks are best for some flashy paddling, you need to check out freestyle. 

There are different kayaks for stunts. Those are called playboats. However, freestyle boats are a more specialized version of that.

If you are a beginner though, then this is not the best option for you. You need to be pretty well-experienced kayaking to get the most out of a freestyle boat. 

Racing Kayaks

I do not know about you, but I am a big fan of racing. Any racing. Whether it is motor racing or boat racing. There is just something exhilarating about seeing the ability of a man and machine put to test.

For speed junkies, racing kayaks will scratch that itch. Racing kayaks are pretty long and sleek to reduce drag and get the most speed. Within the racing kayaks category, there are different subcategories.

You will find racing whitewater kayaks, downriver racing kayaks, whitewater slalom kayaks and also racing surf kayaks.

Here is the interesting part though, racing kayaks do not have to be used only for racing. You will actually find a lot of paddlers using racing kayaks for training. They either like the speed and also the intensity. 

If you do plan to race though, know that you should at least get some first-hand experience with kayaking first. Racing is not for absolute beginners.

Once you are pretty comfortable paddling kayaks, then you can explore what kind of races are available in your local community.

You will love racing kayaks if you are into all that. They are very lightweight. Kayak racing is pretty eventful and super fun to watch.

Kayak Types By Structure

Then there are kayaks categorized by the structure. This category will be more in-depth. There are a lot of materials that are used to make kayaks.

Each has its pros and cons. One material might be good for something specific and be bad for something else. 

So, knowing what structure and material are used to make a specific kayak, will help you make a more informed decision.

here are three main categories when it comes to the structure – hard shell, inflatable, and folding kayaks like those from ORU Kayak.

Hard Shell

Okay, hard-shell kayaks are the most common ones. Chances are, you have seen hard shells somewhere. Or if you know someone who owns a kayak, they probably have a hard shell kayak. 

Could not be the case though. That is why there are different structures. Well, anyway, hardshell kayaks come in lots of different variants.

The range is quite impressive. And you will also see a lot of different kinds of materials being used.

Since there are so many options, you are pretty likely to find one right for you within a category. That is of course unless you need something that folds or is inflatable. More on those types a bit later.

Hardshell kayaks are rigid. This is a common trait among all of them. That means you cannot disassemble them and store them somewhere; they do not fold or anything like that. 

Let’s look at the materials you will commonly see for rigid hardshell kayaks:

Rotomolded Polyethylene

Yes, I know. That is a pretty fancy word. What it means is rotomolded polyethylene. The fantastic thing about it is that it can be used to create a lot of different kinds of designs. And it will not cost an arm and a leg for that either.

The finished product will be pretty durable too! So, you sort of get the best of two worlds here. One of the key benefits of rotomolded polyethylene is that it is impact resistant and quite durable. 

If you want a kayak that is durable and will serve you well for a lot of years to come, this one is pretty solid. That durability also makes for the biggest disadvantage.

They are heavier than all other structure types. If you are looking for a lightweight kayak for racing, then this one is not the best choice out there.


Most people have heard of ABS. It is a type of plastic that is used in a lot of products from phones to kayaks. ABS plastic is pretty durable as well.

They are more expensive as well but when compared to another top-end material, called composite, they are cheaper.

If you are looking for high-performing touring boats, then you will get the most value going with an ABS kayak. They are pretty impact resistant and will hold up to daily wear and tear well.

That is, of course, if you take good care of it.


Let’s check out the composite kayaks that I talked about earlier. These kayaks are quite expensive. But they are also pretty cutting edge.

They are made from layers of fiberglass or aramid cloth. These are lighter and for racing, you cannot go wrong with a composite build.

What you get is a very lightweight design but something that is high performance and durable. For racing boats, composite is the best choice if you are ready to pay up for a premium one.


If you are hunting for a deal, then blow-molded kayaks are something you can check out. They are the most affordable of the bunch. Do not confuse the low cost with shoddy build quality though. 

As far as build and durability are concerned, blow-molded are long-lasting. They are not close to the durability of rotomolded polyethylene though.

Blow-molded kayaks are pretty easy to find in department stores. That is a plus.

Inflatable Kayaks

Have a space with limited storage? Do not let your kayaking hopes and dreams die. You can opt for inflatable kayaks. The compactness and ease of storage is the main selling point of these kayaks. 

If they are not being used, then you just deflate them and store them safely somewhere. Of course, these are much less rigid than hardshell designs.

So, performance can suffer a bit. Some inflatable kayaks do come with more rigidity but not to the level you would get with hardshell designs. 

You will find whitewater and recreational and fishing designs. Recreational ones are a bit cheaper but also use lesser materials.

Fishing and whitewater inflatable kayaks, on the other hand, are more durable and use tough materials for construction. 

Folding Kayaks

Folding kayaks are pretty self-explanatory. They fold (duh). In the collapsible kayak segment, folding kayaks give you the best of both worlds. They fold up to save space and give you good performance too.

Just by the nature of the design, the folding kayak’s hull is stiffer compared to an inflatable one. That makes them a bit more durable and easier to control.

Some folding kayaks can even rival the performance of a good hard shell. If you pick the right kayak, then you will not miss out on much.

You will see touring and recreational designs are most common. For those who are looking for a good kayak that is perfect for travel and also makes storage seamless, folding kayaks are a pretty good buy.

Kayak Types By Propulsion

When I say propulsion, I mean the way the kayak moves on the water. There are three main different categories kayaks fall into. They are paddle-propelled or motorized.


A paddle-propelled kayak might just be the more common kayak propulsion system. You will use a trusty paddle to get yourself from point A to point B.

A high-quality paddle that is the right size for you will help you maneuver any kayak out there.

The right size paddle is key here. You should make sure that the paddle you get is proper for you. 

Motorized Kayaks

A kayak with a trolling motor is pretty cool. The trolling motor practically does the work for you. This does mean that there is an added cost.

You will be paying more for a trolling motor than you would for a high-quality paddle. So, keep that in mind. 

With that being said, some kayakers do love the swiftness of motorized kayaks. They are quite fun. You cannot use a motorized kayak in all cases though.

Pedal Powered Kayaks

These are awesome for anglers. They are pretty similar in design to bicycles. At least the mechanism is. You will be less tired using a pedal-powered kayak and the speed and power are also increased.

If you are buying a kayak for recreational purposes, then a pedal-powered kayak can be a great choice for that. They are heavier than paddle-propelled kayaks though.

Kayak Types By Seats

The last category is seat number. Yes, there are kayaks based on seating arrangement as well. I will keep this one pretty short and sweet.

There is not much here to discuss. When looking at kayaks, you will find two seat types.


Solo and tandem. Solo kayaks are pretty easy to understand. They allow only one person. This is the most sold type of kayak.

If you like being a one-person show then a solo kayak can be a great choice. You can choose your own pace.


The Other type is tandem kayaks. Tandem kayaks offer two seats. They are heavier than solo kayaks. There are different variations for tandem kayaks.

Some have double cockpits, while others can be paddled by one person alone.

You can also find a racing kayak with a tandem seat design. These are best for those who want to go kayaking with a buddy.

They are, of course, more expensive than solo kayaks.

Wrapping Up

Alright, there you have it. Now you know what are the different types of kayaks and also what they are best used for. If you are thinking of buying one, then you should first decide why you are buying one. 

Are you buying a kayak for recreation or racing or touring? It will be easier to decide and help narrow down your options.