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Types of Kayaks: Which One Is Right for You?

Apr 11, 2022

Spring is in full force, and summer isn’t too far away either. If you’re like many of us, this time of year means getting active and taking to the outdoors. If you’ve been thinking of picking up a kayak paddle, here’s what you’ll need to know to shop for the right kayak for your next outdoor adventure.

In this article, we’ll break down the various types of kayaks and the various ways in which they’re classified. You’ll learn where to sit, how to use the different models, and the structure and purpose of these small, fun boats.

The Two Main Types of Kayaks:

There are two major “families” of kayaks: sit-on-tops and sit-ins.


These kayaks are typically used for recreational purposes, like floating down slower rivers or paddling across a lake. This type of kayak is also great for overnight trips or campouts where there will be some recreational time spent on the water.

Here are a few benefits to sit-on-top kayaks:

  • They’re easy to get on and off of. If you don’t yet know how to do a “wet exit” or you’re a first timer, this is a great beginner kayak.

  • They have self-draining scupper holes, so you won’t have to manually pump out water.

  • They contain compartments that allow your belongings to stay dry.

  • Some fancier sit-on-tops have rod holders, which make fishing more convenient.


This type of kayak moves quickly, tracks straight and, similar to most sit-on-top kayaks, has some covered cargo compartments, making it ideal for paddling greater distances. Sit-in kayaks typically come in recreational boats, day touring and touring models. Here are some considerations with sit-in kayaks:

  • They’re more efficient to paddle than a sit-on-top kayak.

  • If you’re a seasoned kayaker, this type of kayak is great because it allows you to have greater control. Sit-ins are particularly useful and easier to maneuver in rougher waters.

  • This kayak is comfortable when the air and water are cool.

  • You’ll need to know how to do a wet exit, especially if you don’t have a spray skirt to keep your kayak from getting swamped with water.

As you shop kayaks, you’ll notice that different brands can sometimes use different classification terms. For example, one brand’s “recreational” kayak might be like another’s “day touring” boat. So, it’s important to talk with a salesperson to make sure you’re getting the right kayak for you and your skill level.

Guiding Principles When Shopping for Kayaks:

Recreational Kayaks (Sit-Ins and Sit-on-Tops):

These kayaks are typically more affordable than other models. They’re stable and easy to get in and out of, and they’re relatively simple to maneuver and turn. When you’re looking for some flatwater fun or wanting to navigate a meandering river, these are the right kayaks for the job. However, because this type of kayak is smaller and really isn’t meant for longer trips, storage in the boat can be limited.

Day-Touring Kayaks (Sit-Ins)

Compared to recreational kayaks, a day-touring kayak is sleeker and more efficient. Day-touring kayaks also track straighter and give you more control in rough water than recreational boats. And, because they’re shorter than sea kayaks, they’re a bit easier to transport and handle.

Touring Kayaks (Sit-In Sea Kayaks)

If you’re into long trips and coastal kayaking, this type is likely your best bet. Touring kayaks are long, robust vessels that are efficient over distances. They track well, and they can deal with wind and harsher currents. If you’re a true beginner looking to develop your paddling skills, we recommend going with a day-touring kayak vs. a touring kayak, since touring kayaks can be pricier and are meant for more avid paddlers.

Folding Kayaks

If you live in the hustle and bustle of the city but like to escape to a body of water on the weekends, a kayak that can easily fold and be transported is a great option. While not as rugged as a hard-shell kayak, folding kayaks still offer comparable handling and storage to that of a touring boat.

Inflatable Kayaks

Like a folding kayak, inflatable kayaks will save you if space is tight. However, inflatables are still quite sturdy and versatile. Though they are best for kayaking close to shore, they can be good in flowing rivers. Some models are even designed to act as serious touring kayaks.

Tandem Kayaks

Want to ride with someone else? You and a partner can both ride in a tandem kayak. These models are as stable as their solo counterparts, so they’re great for when you want to hit the lake or river with a friend or even a kid.

Pedal-Powered Kayaks

These models use bike-like pedals that turn a propeller, or push-pedals that power a pair of fins. Steering is done through a rudder operated by a hand control. These models tend to be wider, with stable platforms. However, keep in mind they do cost a bit more and may require more maintenance. Because of the prop or fins on the bottom, you’ll also want to avoid shallow waters in this type of kayak.

Shop Kayaks with Acima

Now that you’ve learned about the different types of kayaks, you’re ready to start shopping! Using Acima’s lease-to-own solutions*, you can shop kayaks and similar outdoor products through your favorite retailers in store – without using credit.*

And best of all, you can start shopping now without using cash or credit. Acima also offers manageable lease renewal payment options, so you can schedule your payments around your paydays. Your summer adventure on the water awaits.