How to Choose a Touring Kayak

Kayak touring is one of those things you have to do at least once in your life. But just know that once is never enough. You will find yourself doing it again and again—because it is that awesome.

A good touring kayak is key if you want to be safe and have fun. So how do you choose the best touring kayak for your needs?

Consider the following factors.

1. Build Quality

The construction of your kayak affects its performance, durability, weight, among other things. So you want to be keen when choosing kayak material.

Most of the touring kayaks you will come across are made of plastic (polyethylene) and fiberglass. If you widen your search, you will see wood, carbon fiber, and Kevlar sea kayaks.

a. Polyethylene Touring Kayaks

Polyethylene kayaks are the heaviest compared to those made from the other materials. If you will be transporting it alone, be prepared to struggle. And you know that touring kayaks can be really long. Transporting a 17-foot plastic kayak won’t be easy.

Loading it onto your car will be the least favorite part of your day.

However, these plastic touring canoes are the cheapest. Touring yaks can be expensive. So if you don’t have the money, a plastic one is your best option.

Another benefit of a polyethylene boat is that the material can take a lot of abuse. It is not very stiff and will hold up in case of an impact.

b. Fiberglass Touring Kayaks

Fiberglass is arguably the best material for making touring kayaks.

First, it is stiff and glides well on water. This is exactly what you want in a touring kayak. You get where you are going faster with less effort.

While they are stiffer than plastic kayaks, fiberglass kayaks aren’t as stiff as carbon fiber yaks. They, therefore, handle impact fairly well. This makes them more durable.

And to top it all up, these boats are lightweight.

Fiberglass touring kayaks are mid-range but they offer premium benefits.

c. Kevlar Touring Kayaks

Kevlar is slightly more flexible than fiberglass but lighter.

This material is extremely tough. If you are looking to paddle rough places, a Kevlar kayak would be great. And the fact that it is flexible helps it withstand impact.

The downside is that these canoes are expensive, more expensive than fiberglass and polyethylene kayaks. Repairing a Kevlar boat is also difficult.

d. Carbon Fiber Touring Kayaks

Kayaks made with carbon fiber are the lightest.  

The material is exceptionally stiff and performs remarkably. Unfortunately, the stiffness makes it more susceptible to damage in case of collision.

Carbon fiber boats are also super expensive—most people can barely afford them.

e. Wooden Touring Kayaks

Wooden kayaks are gorgeous. And not just that. They are lighter, stronger, and perform impressively.

These kayaks are not the most common and the available ones can be quite costly. But it’s possible to make your own.

2. Size

Touring kayaks can be anywhere from 13 to 18 feet long. And the width/beam ranges from 20 to 28 inches.

Before you go picking anything advertised as a touring canoe, there are a few things you need to understand.

The length of a touring kayak is very important when it comes to performance. A longer one glides faster and tracks straighter.

An 18-foot kayak will cut through the water with exceptional speed and the tracking is excellent. You don’t have to struggle to make it go fast.

You won’t get that kind of performance with a 13-foot touring kayak. It will not be bad but it’s not impressive either—as far as touring goes.

Longer kayaks also tend to have more storage space (we will talk about that later). They may be a little tricky to steer at first, especially for newbies. But when you get the hang of it, you will love how it glides.

If you want speed, get a 16-foot to 18-foot touring kayak. For those who are okay with slightly-above-average performance, a shorter canoe will do.

As for width, narrower is better. You’ll give up primary stability—meaning the boat will feel tippy at first—but you will soon get used to it.

Wider kayaks may have better primary or initial stability but they have more resistance. This slows them down. For kayak touring, you want a fast boat. 

While still on size, don’t forget the cockpit. With recreational kayaks, all that matters is that you can fit into the cockpit. So there’s no problem if you get a kayak with a really big cockpit. 

This is not the case with a touring kayak.

Smaller cockpits are preferable. Your body should fit nicely into it. While you shouldn’t have to wiggle to get in, it shouldn’t be too big either.

Touring kayaks are mainly designed for use in open waters. The last thing you want is water getting into the cockpit. So you will have to use a spray skirt. A small cockpit ensures that it stays on.  

3. Weight and Storage Space

You have to think about getting your kayak to and from the water. You’ve seen how long touring kayaks can be. Imagine how bulky an 18-foot plastic kayak is.

You can either opt for a shorter kayak or one made with lighter materials. Remember that you will forego speed with the shorter boat. Lighter materials like fiberglass will cost more but they are worth it.

If you are on a tight budget and don’t mind the weight, then a plastic kayak would be great for you. But if you can afford it, I highly recommend a fiberglass touring kayak.

People use touring kayaks for long expeditions, camping, etc. This means a lot of luggage.

Touring kayaks come with dry hatches and bungee straps to allow you to bring as much stuff as you need. Longer kayaks will have more storage so they are suited for multiple-day trips.

If you plan on taking shorter trips like a day or so, you may want to look into day touring kayaks. They are shorter, 13 to about 15 feet long. They aren’t as bulky as the multi-day touring kayaks (the longer ones) and the storage space is just enough for one day. 

Note: dry hatches aren’t always dry. Put your valuables in a dry bag before you store them in the hatches.

4. Other Features

a. Hull

The hull of a kayak plays a big role in its performance, especially speed and tracking which are important for touring.

Generally, touring kayaks have a V-shaped hull. As you can already guess, it has a V shape. This hull type slices through the water efficiently, resulting in outstanding speed and tracking. It doesn’t offer much primary stability but the secondary stability is amazing.

The pontoon and flat hull types are not suitable for a touring kayak. They are designed to offer stability and maneuverability but not speed.

b. Rocker

This refers to the curvature of a kayak—that is, how defined the bow to stern curve is. When someone says that a kayak has more rocker, they mean that it is more curved; the bow and stern are lifted.

This shape enhances maneuverability but hinders tracking. So the less rocker the better for touring kayaks.

c. Rudder or Skeg?

Everybody wants to know.

A rudder is a blade found at the stern of some kayaks. It is controlled using foot pedals for a paddling kayak or a hand lever in the case of pedal kayaks. You deploy it as needed and it can move from side to side.

A skeg is found in the hull and it is also retractable so you deploy it when necessary. It is controlled by the use of a lever.

Both the rudder and the skeg help with tracking. Each one has its benefits and downsides and some people will prefer one over the other.

Touring Kayak Q&A

Q: What Is a Touring Kayak Used for?

A: It is used for paddling open waters. The features of a touring kayak make it ideal for long trips. It’s fast and has a lot of storage space.

Q: What Is the Difference Between a Recreational Kayak and a Touring Kayak?

A: Recreational kayaks are designed for relaxed paddling on calm water. They are shorter, wider, and very stable. The cockpit is bigger and they don’t have much storage space. They also feature a flat hull.

Touring kayaks, on the other hand, have a V-shaped hull, poor initial stability, and impeccable secondary stability. They are longer and narrower with incredible speed.

Q: What Size Touring Kayak Do I Need?

A: This will depend on how long you expect your trips to be and your body size. For longer, multi-day trips, you will require a longer touring kayak, 16 to 18 feet. It will be faster and has more storage space.

For shorter trips, a 13-foot to 15-foot boat would be great. It is easier to handle and the storage is just enough for what you’ll need.

Check the cockpit size, cockpit opening length, and cockpit opening width too. You should be able to get in without wiggling or knocking your knees and ankles against the kayak.

Conclusion

Touring in your kayak is a thrilling experience, as long as you get the right kayak. Make sure whatever you settle for is well-made. Choose the material that best suits you, depending on what is a priority for you. The size of a touring kayak determines its storage space and performance. You want something that can hold everything you require for your trip.

Do you have any questions about touring kayaks or useful kayak touring tips? Feel free to leave a comment below. Happy kayaking!

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