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Offering a fun way to explore rivers, lakes, the open ocean and more, kayaks come in a wide variety of styles and designs. People also buy them for activities like wildlife viewing, fishing and camping.

When choosing a kayak, consider where and how you want to use your kayak, whether you want a specific design like an inflatable, sit-on-top, tandem or pedal-powered model and how much cargo you need to carry.

Kayak Types Based on Activities

  • Recreational: These stable kayaks are great for casual paddling at a lakeshore and short outings on calm water. Many people's first kayak is a recreational model.
  • Day touring: A little sleeker and faster than recreational kayaks, these are ideal for day trips to a flatwater destination. They also track well and have more cargo space than a recreational kayak.
  • Touring: These models are longer, faster and hold more gear than day touring kayaks. Sometimes called sea kayaks, many also have rudders or skegs to help them stay on track, and covered hatches and bulkheads to handle rougher water.
  • Fishing: If you're an angler, a kayak is a great way to fish spots you can't easily reach in a motorized craft. Learn more by reading .
  • Whitewater kayaks: Made for paddling on rivers with rapids and other technical features, these boats are small, strong and agile.

Kayaks with Unique Designs

Traditional kayaks have a hard hull and you sit inside to paddle. Many innovative alternatives have sprung up over the years, including:

  • Sit-on-top: Easy to get in and out of, especially if you capsize. Better for mild temperatures, they're wide for stability, but have more limited storage than a kayak that you sit inside.
  • Inflatable: Easy to store and transport, they feature open cockpits and wide hulls for stability. Like sit-on-tops, most of their storage is uncovered.
  • Folding: Sleek and fast like a traditional sit-inside kayak, these break down to stow so they offer another option for people with limited storage space.
  • Tandem: Boats built for two—each person gets their own seat and/or cockpit.
  • Moving hands-free on the water is great for when you also want to take photos, watch for birds or fish.

More to Consider

One spec worth checking is the weight capacity of a boat, especially if you want to carry a lot of cargo. Features like covered hatches also are nice for dry gear storage.

Tracking features help you stay on course when winds or currents arise. They include rudders, skegs and tracking fins. Rudders offer some steering help, too.

Once you've selected your kayak, consider these essentials and accessories:

Why Shop at REI

REI carries top brands like Aquaglide, Eddyline, Delta, Dagger, Oru and Hobie. We also have gear checklists and a library of kayaking articles to help you get started kayaking and ready for your paddling.