Touring Kayaks and Sea Kayaks

Since sea kayaks are essentially a subset of touring kayaks, I’m going to address them both on this page and I’ll use the term touring kayak to refer to both of them.

day's end in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River

day's end in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River

If you already know what you’re looking for in a touring kayak and just want to compare makes and models, scroll down to the comparison tables below. If you’re not sure what to look for in a touring kayak, then read the following sections to help answer some of the questions you may have.

How To Choose the Best Touring Kayak For You

There are several choices you can make that will help to narrow your selection pretty quickly. For many people, cost is a factor so it may make sense to consider the hull material first because that has the biggest impact on the price of your kayak.

Hull Material

Touring kayaks are generally made of either some kind of plastic (usually polyethylene) or some type of composite (with fiberglass being the most common). Composite boats are usually much more expensive than their plastic counterparts. However, the composite boats can weigh quite a bit less, which can be a big benefit if you have to lift your kayak onto the roof of your car or truck by yourself. Composite boats almost always have beautiful glossy exteriors and some people claim that the smooth finish increases their speed through the water. The composite hulls are also generally more rigid than the hulls of plastic boats and that rigidity should equate to a more responsive kayak in theory. However, there can be a downside to the rigidity too. The more flexible plastic hulls are also more forgiving should you paddle a little too close to rocks during choppy conditions or if you drop your kayak while trying to load it onto your vehicle. Plastic kayaks handle those events with relatively minor damage (although it may not feel minor if your kayak is new), and deeper scratches can even be repaired relatively easily (like filling scratches in the bottom of skis or snowboards). Composite kayaks may not fare as well and can crack due to their more rigid nature. Repairing them can be more difficult, and/or more costly. There is no right or wrong choice, so make a choice based on your budget, intended use (i.e., potential risks to your kayak) and maintenance.

Rudder vs. Skeg

The next thing to decide is probably whether you want a rudder, a skeg, or neither. This can be a pretty hot debate among kayakers, so I’ll just briefly touch on some of the pros and cons. Kayak rudders, just like the rudders on larger boats, can be used to control (or help control) the direction of your kayak. Foot pedals inside the cockpit allow the rudder to move from right to left, and a kayak rudder can be lifted out of the water if you don’t need to use it. A skeg, on the other hand, is essentially a retractable keel that can be raised or lowered from the bottom of the boat. Skegs are primarily meant to assist with tracking (going in a straight line) during windy conditions but, since the skeg can’t be moved from side to side like a rudder, you’re still going to have to turn your boat using just your body and your paddle. Some people feel that paddlers should learn to control their kayaks using edging techniques (i.e., without the help of a rudder). You may hear claims that rudder mechanisms, due to their relative complexity compared to skegs, are more prone to technical problems. Another claim is that when a rudder is not in use, and is up on the back deck of the kayak, that it presents a significant surface for side winds to push on, although I personally think that the increased surface area is relatively small when compared to that of the entire kayak and paddler. Skegs have a downside too in that they have to retract into a skeg box that takes up room that might otherwise be used for gear if you are taking an extended trip. There are even kayaks that have neither a rudder or skeg, but controlling such kayaks in windy conditions will undoubtedly prove harder than with either a rudder or skeg.

Size Matters

Okay, what I really mean is that safety, comfort and control matter and cockpit size relates directly to all of those. A snug fitting touring kayak is a good thing, if not even a necessary thing, because your hips and thighs need to be in contact with the boat to give you control for edging and rolling. You don’t won’t a kayak that fits you like a baggy clown suit, so if you’re a particularly small person and you buy a boat with a generous cockpit, be prepared to add some padding so that you obtain a nice snug fit. Again, fit isn’t as much of an issue when you’re just doing recreational paddling on flat water, but when the wind and waves pick up you’ll want a snug fit for optimum boat control. Likewise, if you’re a relatively large person, for the sake of comfort and safety don’t buy a kayak with a tiny cockpit. You need to be able to get out of the boat in a hurry if you capsize and aren’t able to roll your kayak back up. To determine a minimum cockpit width, measure the width of your hips when you’re sitting and then add a little wiggle room. Cockpit length is probably even more important because someone with longer legs can find it much harder to get in and out of the same cockpit as someone with shorter legs. Personally, I prefer a kayak cockpit that is at least as long as my inseam. However, you will certainly find many kayaks with much tighter cockpits than that. As an example, I’m 5 ’11” and about 175 pounds with a 33″ inseam and the cockpit of quite a few sea kayaks are just a little too tight for me (I own and love the Wilderness Systems Tempest 170; see the table below).

The Best Sea Kayaks

Tips: Click on a product name for more information. Then click on the Comparison tab to find the best price.

Make and ModelHull MaterialLengthWidthDepthCockpit SizeWeightRudder or SkegPrice
Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 Expedition Kayakpolyethylene17'22"13.5"34" x 18"57 lbs.Skeg$1649
Delta Kayaks Delta 16 Kayak with RudderThermoformed ABS plastic16'22"12"32.5" x 16"50 lbs.Rudder$2425
Eddyline Fathom LV Kayak with SkegThermoformed ABS plastic15'6"21"13"31.5" x 16.5"47 lbs.Skeg$2699
Necky Elias Kayak with Rudderpolyethylene15' 6"22.25"32.25" x 16"54 lbs.Rudder$1699
Necky Eliza Kayak with Rudderpolyethylene15' 3.5"22"28.25" x 16"49 lbs.Rudder$1699

The Best Touring Kayaks

Tips: Click on a product name for more information. Then click on the Comparison tab to find the best price.

Make and ModelHull MaterialLengthWidthDepthCockpit SizeWeightRudder or SkegPrice
Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 Kayak with Rudderpolyethylene14' 6"24.5"16"35.5" x 19.5"56 lbs.Rudder$1419
Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125 Kayakpolyethylene12' 6"26"16"36" x 20"51 lbs.Neither$1049
Delta Kayaks Delta 14 Kayak with RudderABS plastic14'23.75"13.25"32" x 17"45 lbs.Rudder$1995
Eddyline Denali Kayak with SkegABS plastic15' 3"24.5"14.5"38" x 18.5"50 lbs.Skeg$2499
Perception Tribute 12 Kayak (women-specific)polyethylene12'24.5"13.5"35" x 19.5"42 lbs.Neither$779

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